Letters – January, 24 2012

Letters – January, 24 2012

What’s a Flyer to Do?

In a recent business class trip from Washington, to London, to India, I had a choice of airline alliances to use–American/British Airways that had a 25,000 bonus or United/Lufthansa with my Premier Executive Status. At over $10,000 for the ticket, I thought whoever I used I’d be treated well during my trip. I chose United/Lufthansa and was I wrong!

The problem occurred when I checked in at Mumbai, India, at the Lufthansa desk at 1am. The agent told me she could not “find” me in their system and could not ticket me back to the U.S. via Frankfurt. I was shocked and showed her both my codesharing confirmation numbers AND a copy of my receipt.

NO luck, and despite talking to three other employees, they were telling me to leave the airport and get this fixed the next day. I refused and called my travel agent World Travel’s emergency travel desk who, confirming I had a valid ticket, called United who called Lufthansa to find out what was going on.

My flight was filling up, security lines getting longer and I was starting to panic. I asked to speak to the senior manager in charge and when he came over, I pleaded with him and again showed my receipts with my electronic confirmation. Totally lucky for me, the manager took pity on me and granted me a ticket–BUT–only to Frankfurt (saying he was taking a risk). He allowed my bag to be ticketed through to Washington but told me if the problem wasn’t fixed in Frankfurt, I would not get on the flight and that my bag would be taken off! Racing through customs and to the flight already boarding, I called my travel agent again who was still on hold with United/Lufthansa and pleaded with them to fix the issue while I was in the air. Apparently United could “see the ticket”, but Lufthansa could not see the portion of funds for their segment of the trip. I arrived in Frankfurt and stood in line at 6am after receiving an email from World Travel that Lufthansa could now “see” the ticket but the emails I had requested from the airlines so I could show proof, would not be sent. After 30 minutes with Lufthansa, going over everything all over again, they called United and then approved my already paid ticket and I got my boarding pass.

Post trip, we called our travel agent to ask if United/Lufthansa would send a note/explanation of what the problem had been and what I or anyone else should do in a similar situation. No response from either!

Today (Dec. 26), I leave in a pre-booked Continental/Lufthansa ticket back to India that I can’t change and am worried.

Randy, what can a traveler do in such a situation? Being totally dependent in a foreign country trying to leave and running into an issue like this sucks and the airlines that tout their wonderful codesharing should do a better job with their customers.
Richard Ramlall

Randy’s Note: I’ve seen similar situations as well and think it is not an unreasonable decision to request a paper-stock ticket regardless of the extra fee vs. total dependence on an e-ticket. By requesting a paper-stock ticket, this form of ticketing remains universal throughout the world.

Adios Avios

Just got the latest edition of InsideFlyer this morning and read the Letters page with interest. My husband and I are also on the warpath with the British Airways Executive Club, basically because of their hopeless attitude to customer service and the inability to use miles. What is the use of having three million miles if we are not able to use them? And what are the benefits of being a Gold Member when we cannot get any personal service?

Our increased frustration is mainly over the near impossibility of using air miles. I began trying to book one of our regular business class roundtrips between Denver and London from Jan. 4 to Feb. 2 several months ago. Absolutely nothing close available. I had our travel agent monitor seat availability and it was not until after the British Airways two-day Christmas Sale that the Jan. 4 availability dropped from 15 seats to three. I therefore used miles to book a one-way ticket on Jan. 4. I am still waiting to see what happens for the return on Feb 2. I can fly on the first, but would prefer to travel with my husband (he has a full-fare business class ticket) on Feb. 2.

I also began trying to book a roundtrip business class ticket between Denver and Bangkok beginning April 9, returning around the 26th, with a short stopover in London on the return. My dates are pretty fixed as we have booked a sailing trip in Thailand for a specific week in April. My husband will pay for his business class ticket (we want to maintain Gold status, but maybe not for much longer), but I need to use miles. According to the BA website, the only business class flights available to Bangkok are on just one day in April, nearly three weeks after my desired departure date. Again, according to the BA website, it appears that there are no available seats on BA partners–American, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Japan Airlines or Royal Jordanian–all of which offer paid business class flights on the requested date on the Expedia website.

I have not yet summoned up the fortitude to call Executive Club to assist in making any of these bookings. Last year, when I wanted to use miles for another trip to Southeast Asia, ending in Ho Chi Minh City, I talked for 20 minutes with a woman who could come up with nothing and then said, “Oh, I thought you meant Hong Kong. BA doesn’t fly to Vietnam.” Life is too short.

We each recently received and completed an Executive Club survey whose purpose implied and stated that the BA Executive Club wanted us to feel “special”. Since we have found it almost impossible to book business class travel using air miles, sorry, I mean Avios, we were not impressed by this sentiment. We have three million miles and no place to go.

We mentioned our dissatisfaction to the cabin service director of a recent flight and she promised to follow up on our behalf, which she did. After a deafening BA silence of two weeks, I contacted her again. She was most apologetic and enlisted the help of her manager. We immediately received a form email acknowledgement from the Executive Club. And then more silence.

Yet another two weeks and yet another “do not reply to this” Executive Club email: So sorry to hear you are unhappy, please call this toll-free number.

Just how are we supposed to feel “special”? Being a Gold member means we have access to slightly better lounges than if we were regular elite members (although not in Denver), ditto for priority boarding and … gosh, that’s about it. If we want to circumvent the omnipresent mileage blackout dates, we are charged 50 percent more miles and only for use by the member. Of course, I forgot, we now have nearly 10 useless “Redemption Tickets” available between us. Times must be bad if BA is willing to forego revenue in order to pay down our Avios mileage accounts.

Finally, I hope some senior BA management have seen the January issue of InsideFlyer. Should be sobering reading.
S.C. in Denver

Editors’ Note: We’ve forwarded a note about your frustrations to a contact we have at British Airways Executive Club.

Tarnished Silver

I have been a subscriber to InsideFlyer almost since its inception. Many times I have applauded your ability to get airlines to listen to reason when they have gotten off course.

When they announced the recent changes to the MileagePlus program, the only customers who were hurt were the Silver Elite. No one else suffered any real negative consequences from the changes.

The Silver Elites lost a free bag, and they lost the opportunity to book seats near the front, until the last 24 hours before their flight. The worst part of all this is that they suffered these losses AFTER going through a whole year to earn them. The management at United/Continental managed to pull the rug out from under us, just as we earned the benefits for 2012.

If they had been fair to us, they would have announced that those changes would take place in 2013, so that when we earn elite status in 2012 for 2013, we know what we will be getting. Instead, they made the changes effective so late in the 2011 year, that those of us who could get to Silver had no time left to get to Gold.

I have been Silver or Gold for about the past 10-12 years. I earned Silver for 2012 late in the year in 2011. However, if I cannot get seats up near the front, there is no real reason for me to fly United/Continental anymore.

I’m having a very hard time understanding why they clobbered the Silvers and no one else. At this point I do not want to leave them, but if Continental/United does not do something to mitigate what they have done to us I feel that I have no choice but to move my family’s business to a carrier that is more oriented to our needs.
Stephen and Bonnie Megregian

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