Letters – June, 28 2005

Letters – June, 28 2005

Who’s Pulling The Strings
Your recent article citing a 73-percent success rate for redeeming frequent flyer miles must have been written by an airline. Over the past two years it’s been increasingly difficult to find seats during any season. In an effort to get frequent flyer to redeem more miles, airlines are encouraging flyers to book first class.

When I did, the flight was more than half empty. Their secret formulas for capacity controls on frequent flyer seats are hiding the fact they are denying us the hard-earned miles redemption we deserve.
Leon Mathieu

Editor’s note: Ouch! An airline? Actually you might give a quick read to Award Search to see which programs are better than others in giving away the free seats. All are not created equal.

AAnger Over Transfer Fees
In a recent attempt to cash in/transfer miles from my American Airlines AAdvantage account into Hilton HHonors points, I discovered that effective April 1, 2005, American Airlines is charging a $25 administrative processing fee. I was taken aback by it because over the preceding two years, I have transferred in excess of 150,000 AAdvantage miles into 300,000 Hilton HHonors points, and it was free. As recently as December 2004, I completed a similar transaction – of course, gratis. Not only is AAdvantage charging $25, but the representative went on to say it would take three weeks before I received the certificate to send on to Hilton’s service center. Lastly, AAdvantage had the audacity to ask why I was transferring so many of miles from AAdvantage miles to HHonors points. I exclaimed, “You can’t use the miles for redemption for an award with you!” If you haven’t already conveyed this info to your loyal AAdvantage/HHonors readers, please do so. Thank you.
Michael Deon Williams

Do Old Flames Die Hard?
I was curious if your best guess is that the United/US Airways alliance will remain. I am 1K on United and would love access to the America West network.
David D’Onofrio

Editor’s note: It will likely not remain as “United/US Airways,” but it will remain on some level, because of US Airways’ membership in Star Alliance, of which United is a member. Because America West is such a competitor of Ted out west, United will likely default to the requirements of Star Alliance and nothing more. But, that would still be good enough for you to earn United miles while flying the newly enhanced US Airways/America West route system.

Take Me to Their Leader
I would like some guidance on how to get any officer of Delta Air Lines to respond to the complaint letters I have sent to them regarding dirty planes, faulty entertainment systems on aircraft, and reservations problems. I have tried to make contact with the Delta Executive offices and no one responds. I am within 2,000 miles of qualifying for their Platinum Medallion level and am a million miler.

Please advise on how I can get someone of authority to speak with me at Delta.
Roger Solomon

Editor’s note: Roger, there’s been so many changes of executives at this airline you are likely to be lost in the “Who me?” responsibility chain. We’re just the miles guys and will pass along the direct contact with one of the good guys in SkyMiles and I think I can almost guarantee he will personally respond. But we both likely know that their problems aren’t likely fixed very soon. You’ve got mail.

No Way, BA
[Editor’s note: the following letter was directed to British Airways]

After many years, I am going to end my British Air Visa card. I got it to collect miles on my BA account, and also transferred my Diners Club account to BA during their summer promotions; I have always liked British Air.

Because I have enjoyed BA, but actually haven’t flown them in a while, due to their inane no reservation hold policy, I should at least let you know why this is. Sometimes in Europe for a short trip (when I am definite) I go BA, but generally just use what my selected airline offers.

I will continue to use British Air through their partners, but can no longer deal with British Air. I will use up the miles that I have and phase out as a frequent flyer.

We travel a lot, all over the world hundreds of thousands of miles a year, and the policy of being unable to reserve a reservation for even 24 hours shows such little regard for a traveler that I cannot deal with it. It is unnecessary for me to do so anyhow, as no other airline makes a request as stupid as this. It is impossible for me to plan a European trip of varied complexity, and buy the ticket as soon as I hear what is available … and then see what arrangements I can make to suit the trip or to work out arrangements with friends and family.

I talked to a supervisor who said I could go online a and see what is available and make all arrangements before I call; I have more self respect for the value of my time to put in all this work to discover that it will not work and I cannot get it, or to make plans on a supposition.

No, thank you.
Selma Duckler

Comparing Partner Experiences
[Editor’s note: the following letter was directed to Northwest Airlines Customer Care]

Let me preface this letter by saying I’m a frequent business traveler who tries to fly Delta Airlines whenever possible. My preference for Delta is based on their excellent customer service, new fleet of airplanes, and their embrace of new technologies. That being said, I had to schedule a flight for this week from San Francisco, California (SFO) to Green Bay, Wisconsin (GRB) in which Delta’s fares were not competitive with Northwest. NWA being a Sky Team partner of Delta, I booked a flight expecting the same high level of service. Unfortunately I was mistaken.

Let me outline what happened:

My first problem started with the booking process. As a matter of form I’ll usually do cost comparisons on a discount travel Web site such as Expedia.com. When I did this, I found a flight on NWA where the price was reasonable, along with a flight schedule that fit with my work schedule. I then went to the NWA Web site to try to book this itinerary, only to not find it on the site. Perplexed, knowing that the seats were available yet I was unable to find them online, I called NWA’s phone reservation line. The lady that took my call was actually quite helpful in finding the flights I had found on Expedia. She proceeded to book the flight for me. My only problem with this process is that is cost me an extra five dollars to book this flight because of an apparent flaw in your Web site. Not a good start to my dealing with Northwest.

With the ticketing behind me, I was ready to go on my trip. After arriving at my gate I asked the gate agent for the location of the nearest ATM (as I wanted to buy a snack on the flight). She glared up at me from behind the counter and pointed down one side of the terminal. She acted as if I was bothering her. Apparently customer service isn’t anywhere in her job description. Flying as often as I do, I understand that working at an airport isn’t always the most fun job, and I understand that individuals won’t always be in the best mood. I considered this an isolated incident and didn’t give it much thought.

The rest of my outgoing trip went pretty smoothly. The flights were on time and I had a chance to catch some sleep so I didn’t get the chance to interact with any flight attendants. It is my return trip where I really began to understand the lack of customer service that exists throughout Northwest’s organization.

My business in Wisconsin wrapped up much earlier than I had expected, so I checked online to see if NWA had any earlier fights from GRB to MSP and from MSP to SFO. I found a segment from GRB to MSP that was leaving earlier, and based on the seat map displayed online, there looked to be plenty of room. The only earlier flight from MSP to SFO was sold out except for first class. I figured there was a chance that some passengers might get upgraded to those first class seats, and at the very least I could standby for that flight. With the possibility of someone not showing up or missing their connection. Having never flown NWA before my next step was to call the reservation line to see what the best way to change my itinerary was.

I called the reservation number to ask if I could do what I though was possible from the Web site. The first agent that answered the call asked for the confirmation number of my existing reservation. She then told me that the flights were sold out. I asked her to confirm that the FRB-MSP segment was indeed sold out, as online it was showing twenty or more seats available. She said in a very slow and condescending voice “all flights are sold out!” She then hung up the phone as the customer satisfaction survey that plays after the call then came on. In hindsight, I should have answered the survey, but I was so taken aback by being hung up on that it didn’t occur to me at the time.

I again checked online to make sure the first segment of the trip had not filled up. I confirmed it hadn’t, then called back. This time I did get an agent that was helpful. She informed me that the first segment probably wouldn’t be a problem to go on, but the second segment was slightly overbooked. She agreed with me that it was at least worth a shot, but informed me she couldn’t put me on standby list, as that could only be done at the airport. I thanked her and left for the airport. From there I was abler to put myself on standby (again avoiding any interaction with NWA employees) using your check-in kiosk.

As I initially expected, I was easily able to get on the early flight from GRB to MSP. Once there, I though it would be a good idea to check in at the gate of the earlier MSP to SFO flight to see if there and been any change in the flights status. Upon arriving at the gate, I noticed that the flight had been delayed approximately forty-five minutes. I wasn’t sure if the delay would be positive or a negative for my attempt to get on a flight, but without a doubt it warranted asking the gate agent her opinion on the chance of standbys getting on the flight.

As I approached the counter I again felt like I was dong a disservice to the gate attendant. She basically sighed as I was approaching, making it clear that she did not want to help me. I politely asked if she thought there was any chance that standbys would be getting on this flight. She informed me that she had no idea and she would be announcing it in hour. It isn’t her answer that bothered me so much, as it was her tone of voice. I’ve asked similar questions all the time of Delta gate agents and they are courteous enough to eyeball the current bookings on the flight and give me an opinion one way or another if it was looking good or not. Apparently, this type of service is beyond what this gate agent was willing to do.

Having an hour to kill, I walked around the Minneapolis airport. When I came back to the gate right before boarding, I asked a different gate agent if they had announced the status of the standby passengers yet. This agent literally laughed in my face, before telling me there was “no way” any standby passengers were going to make it on the flight. This was really the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. It didn’t bother me in the least, although I obviously would have preferred it that I wasn’t going to be making my earlier flight. I was bothered, however, by the complete disregard the multiple employees had shown for pleasing the customer.

At this point I was just trying to not let my anger get the best of me. I considered finding a NWA customer service representative in the airport, but instead decided it might be more productive to call your customer service hotline. When I called the customer service hotline I was greeted with a message that due to the high call volume NWA was unable to answer questions or comments over the phone. Does the fact that your customer service hotline receives such a high call volume that you can’t even take the phone calls say anything to you? So instead of talking to a real person about my real concerns I’m writing this letter.

Let me end this letter by telling you I’m not writing in the hope of getting any free tickets, apologies, or NWA apparel. I’m writing this letter to let you know that none of my approximate 120 segments a year will ever again be flown on your airline. Furthermore I’ll be copying every consultant within my organization on this same letter. Combined, we spend over $500,000.00 a year on air travel. I’m suspecting that Northwest Airlines will be seeing very little if any of this money,

Thank you for your time.
Nicholas Jordan

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