Letters – May, 18 2011

Letters – May, 18 2011

Just Might Travel On “Those Airlines”

We have travelled to Hawaii from Canada regularly for many years. We used travel poiints/miles for some of these trips. The last several years it has become more difficult to book a trip for the “normal” coach miles. In 2008, Delta would only book us from Vancouver, B.C. to Hawaii if we used 55,000 miles. In 2009, they asked for 57,500 miles.

We did not have enough miles with their program for 2010, so we decided to use Aeroplan miles from Air Canada. They also did not have any coach seats available and required 60,000 miles each.

We start trying to book these flights as soon as allowed each year, which was April, 2010. We usually travel to Hawaii around the middle of November and return in the first week of March. We are flexible and give them about a 10-day period to find flights.

It is easy to see why passengers do not believe the airlines when they tell you there are no coach seats available when we try to book so many months ahead.

This last trip to Hawaii was even more difficult. Not only did Air Canada not have any coach seats available, they wouldn’t even book us on nonstop flights for the first class amount of miles they required us to use.

They insisted the only flight we could book to Hawaii from Vancouver, which is on the West Coast of Canada, would be via Phoenix, Arizona. One look at a map would tell you how ridiculous this was.

We flew to Phoenix on Nov. 3, 2010 on US Airways. There was NO first class service on this flight other than the seats. We were told that only beverages would be served and a cookie even though the flight was three hours and left at 7:44am. No breakfast of course!

The flight attendant was anxious to get the flight over with and be done as she commented to another attendant. Once she gave us our beverage, we didn’t hear from her again. This definitely IS NOT FIRST CLASS.

We had over three hours to wait in Phoenix before our connection to Hawaii. When this happens in other cities and we are travelling first/business class, we have always been able to use the airline lounge of the airline we will be travelling with on our next flight.

When we got to the US Airways lounge and asked to go in, we were told by the attendant at the desk, that first class passengers from other airlines can only use their lounge when travelling to an International destination–like back to Canada. At the same time we arrived at that desk, a passenger travelling from Minneapolis to Palm Springs, was told the same thing. When both she and us said to the attendant that this is not normal procedure for first class/business travelers, she said that all airlines do this. We said that was not the case and that the other partner airlines let us use their lounges.

Her surprising reply was–“then go travel on those airlines.” We were shocked!

We did have a much better flight on US Airways to Hawaii than we had from Vancouver to Phoenix. However, our experience with US Airways generally is not good and we would not choose them.

Our return flight to Vancouver on Air Canada and United also was not a nonstop. Originally, we were to only have a two-hour stop on our return. This was changed by Air Canada and we were put onto a flight that had us stopping for five hours on our return.

We were told by an agent who was sympathetic to our cause, that we should try around mid-January to change our return to a nonstop flight, or at least a day flight return via a partner airline. When we tried to do this, Aeroplan/Air Canada would only put us on a nonstop flight if we gave them another 106,000 miles.

We were so frustrated with our experience in first trying to book a trip as early as April 2010, and everything that happened, that we decided to give up on the bank card that gave us the Aeroplan miles. We changed to a different card that gives us points that are worth cash for travel on any airline we book flights on.

We know we are not alone with problems of people trying to book flights using the airline’s mileage system. First, they rarely have a flight available at the lowest miles needed. Second, they are often making it difficult to book a flight directly or nonstop to your destination.

We as passengers have a choice on loyalty, and will choose the airline that seems to care about their passengers. We will choose a way to get travel points that doesn’t penalize passengers by making travel so difficult as our experience has been the last several years.

We like getting tips from your magazine and thank you. As seniors, we don’t travel as much, but would like the airlines to realize why passengers don’t believe that they “care”.

Thank you for your time and we look forward to hearing your comments.
Noel and Dianne Jampolsky

Editors’ Note: As you pointed out, you are not alone in your frustration. Unfortunately, Hawaii is a very popular destination. Our best advice is to do what you’ve been doing–booking in advance, being willing to be flexible and being verbal when you experience problems. And finally, as you also have demonstrated, vote with your feet and go toward a program that better fulfills your expectations.

Lifetime AA Elite Forever?

My concern is with the unofficial lifetime program of American AAdvantage. I am two thirds of the way towards having a million miles though a combination of flights and credit card spending. I’m worried that AA will change the program before I hit the million mark. I used to fly a lot and I still fly a fair amount. But it would be devastating if AA changed the program now to be miles flown only. For years I have worked towards this goal and expect to finish fairly soon in part due to credit card spending. My hope is that the lifetime elite program will continue for the time being as is, but that if it ever does change, a significant grandfather clause will be included. Otherwise, I might as well have been loyal to a different airline after all this time.

Editors’ Note: You’re not the only one wondering when the ax might fall on American’s policy of counting all miles toward million miler status. We suggest you find a reason to spend a few more dollars on your credit card now (paying it off in full each month of course!). See our story in Inside Edition about this very subject and good luck!

Booking Engine Follies

I recently booked a coach award ticket from Denver to Detroit in June using US Airways miles. There weren’t any available flights at the low level on US Airways when I searched on usairways.com so I looked into partner flights by searching at Continental Airlines OnePass website. First of all, why doesn’t US Airways include partner airlines in its online search tool? With Continental, I can search for awards on United, US Airways and Continental, in addition to a few other Star Alliance airlines. US Airways search tool is limited to flights on US Airways only.

At continental.com, I was able to find availability at the lowest level on Continental Airlines on the outbound and US Airways on the return flight. Oddly enough, the US Airways flight that I found did not even show up on the award booking tool at usairways.com. It looks like the tool at US Airways only searched for flights connecting through hubs in Philadelphia and Charlotte whereas Continental.com looked for flights connecting through Phoenix, where there was a seat available. I wrote down the flights I wanted and called US Airways reservations. The agent searched and said the only flights available on the dates I gave her were at the high 60,000-mile level and did I want her to look for flights on other dates? I was puzzled since I knew there were flights available at the low level. I then asked her if she had looked for flights on partner airlines. She searched again and found the exact same flights I had found at Continental.com for a total of 25,000 miles. She waived the over-the-phone booking fee but I still had to pay the $25 “award processing fee”.

While I’m glad that online award booking engines are available, they don’t perform adequate searches. If I didn’t know that I could search for Dividend Miles awards at continental.com, I probably just would have accepted that there weren’t any flights available for 25,000 miles when the agent told me that I would need to spend 60,000 miles for the flight. But knowing that I could look for awards at a partner airline’s website made all the difference and when I redeem Dividend Miles in the future, I’m not going to even bother searching with usairways.com unless they improve their award booking engine.
Charlene Bloom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *