Letters – August, 24 2010

Letters – August, 24 2010

Not Dead Yet

United Airlines Mileage Plus program is entirely useless for many reasons. They don’t actually award the miles that are promised, and then redeeming the few that you actually get is extremely difficult. We had one trip to Europe (this is ONE example but NOT the only one!) where we got credited for five out of the six flights (there were two layovers).

The missing one was the long leg, from Frankfurt to Denver. We appealed and went through the trouble of gathering and sending our boarding passes and all, and they took over a year to tell us that too much time had gone by and our appeal had been denied. So, in their opinion, we swam/walked back for that leg of the trip. Our next trip (the next year) was not credited at all! Oh, and they lost our bags on that first trip, too.

A number of years ago, I was presented with Delta’s Flying Colonel card. Back then, I was flying 50 percent or more of my workdays and spending a lot of company money on tickets. When they revoked the “lifetime” Crown Room access I was annoyed but I seldom used the privilege anyway. The real reason for the FC was that members were used for free advertising for Delta and promoted Delta Air Lines. After retiring, Delta provided some benefits like pre-boarding. Now they will not even give us one free bag!

I guess they don’t think I am in a position to still promote Delta anymore. It is true that I don’t fly as much, however, I have a surprise for them. I’ll bet the retired FC tend to fly more business and first class flights since being older they want the comfort that most retirees look for. I am still very active in aviation as a pilot, built my own high-performance aircraft, do grade and high school presentations about aviation and flying, as well as using aviation and flying as a case study at a local college. Additionally, we travel a great deal worldwide and have five trips planned this year.

Is it too much to offer pre-boarding and one free bag to FC and their spouses? We are not dead and still promote and utilize those businesses that recognize our past as well as our current value.
Jim Agnew

Upgrades, What Upgrades?

I have had increasing difficulty with United Airlines reservations over the past couple of years as they have shifted their reservations offshore. The following is a letter that I wrote to United, which I thought you might be interested in:

I have been a Premier Member or a Premier Executive member on United Airlines for over 10 years. I travel between Los Angeles and New York 6-10 times per year and always make my own travel arrangements. I have accrued many United miles and use them to upgrade from coach to business class on these flights. Fortunately, my schedule is flexible enough to travel on dates and at times when these 15,000-mile per segment upgrades are available.

During the past few years as you have outsourced your reservation agents to locations outside of the United States, it has become much more difficult to make reservations. The reason is that many of the agents have no idea how to accomplish using miles to upgrade or whether it is even possible. On several occasions during the past year the agent told me that there were no upgrades available during any of the several days on either side of my desired departure and return dates (even though I was calling 4-6 weeks in advance) even if I would fly with a stop or to a nearby airport. When I asked to speak to a supervisor, I was told that they cannot help and my request was either refused or I was put on hold for as long as 35 minutes without anyone coming on the line. I have learned that when confronted with this situation, I must call United Airlines back, spend 10 minutes going through the reservation tree of questions in order to get another reservation agent who may or may not be knowledgeable enough to figure out what to do.

I have even argued with agents who offered me upgrades to first class (rather than business class) from economy and explained to them that they could only give me a one-class upgrade on an aircraft that offers three classes of service. On at least two occasions, they booked me in first class anyway. I called back four or five different times prior to my flight, explained the situation, and attempted to correct it without success. Once I was bumped from the flight and told that I could not double upgrade (despite the fact that it was United’s error which I attempted to correct). I was forced to wait several hours for another flight (even though there were seats available in first class). On the second occasion, I was fortunate that there was a business class seat available on the flight.

Today, I attempted to book a flight from LAX to JFK for mid-August and was told by the representative that the only way I could upgrade was to take advantage of United’s new Unlimited Domestic Upgrade program. I explained that I wanted to have a confirmed upgrade by using my miles. He said it couldn’t be done. I quoted from United’s Web site: “Members may continue to use Mileage Plus upgrade awards, systemwide upgrades or regional upgrades to receive an upgrade as early as time of ticketing, subject to availability.” He repeated his initial statement. When I asked to speak to a supervisor or be transferred to a representative in the United States, he told me that he could not transfer me to a representative in the United States and that the supervisor would tell me the same thing that he did. I asked to speak to a supervisor and was put on hold for over 30 minutes before I hung up and called back. The next representative told me that no upgraded seats were available in August and inquired if I could go in late September, so I called back again. This time I reached a knowledgeable woman who made my upgraded reservations. This process took over two hours.

If this scenario were unusual, I wouldn’t be writing this to you. It is, however, the norm. I haven’t been able to make a reservation on United Airlines without several attempts and hours of wasted time (waiting for supervisors, getting incorrect information, getting lost in the automated reservation tree on the phone) in several years.

What’s worse is that there is no one to whom I can complain that can be reached by telephone. I would very much appreciate a response.
Richard Rottman

Editors’ Note: We followed through with Richard to ask if he’d heard back from United, and the following was his response:

I did hear back from United. I got a phone call from their Customer Service department last week. I once again explained the situation, going into much more detail regarding other reservation and upgrade problems that I’ve had over the past year. The person to whom I spoke was very sympathetic and said that he would pass my complaint up the chain of command. When I questioned him, he told me that he gets at least one email like mine every day and has for the past six months at least. I guessed that if he gets one email per day, it was fair to assume that each agent gets a similar number of emails and has for a similar period of time. He agreed. I further explained that if that was true, there are probably at least 10 times the number of people who have had this experience and did not complain. Again, he agreed. I offered my observation that sending my complaint (along with the others that he and other agents have received) up to the next level hasn’t seemed to change anything since the offshore reservations system isn’t working particularly well, and complaints, aside from generating a phone call from United Customer Service, hasn’t really led to a resolution to the problem. He reluctantly agreed. He offered to give me some miles for my trouble and rescheduled my flight (with upgrade).

All of this was very nice. It does not, however, resolve the problem. What I wanted was a phone number that would get me to a knowledgeable agent preferably in the United States; he couldn’t give me one. He was also reluctant to give me his cell phone number so I could call him directly the next time I had a problem, but he did find this request amusing (which was my intent since humor is the only way one can deal with airlines reservations, upgrades and award travel these days).

Next time I have to make a reservation, I think that I will go to the airport because at least I’ll be dealing with a reservations agent who understands how to make a reservation and hopefully, upgrade it. Even though I’m 30-40 minutes from the airport and even if you add in parking, it will likely take less time and be less aggravating. Sad.

Don’t Forget the Promos

In your WiseFlyer answer to Cristopher, one thing you left out, which I think still applies:

American always had promos in which you could get quicker status to elite than Delta or United. You always have to call and ask for the specific promo, which you can do each year–so Gold, then Platinum. That way if you travel frequently, your benefits kick in before the miles or segments. I never got in on miles, but always on segments, but I got more earning power with miles since I was Platinum by March.
Benita S. Yanora

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