Letters – January, 19 2015

Letters – January, 19 2015

I live in Panama and am retired. I am going to Paris in April for my daughter’s wedding.

I just booked a United ticket online to Paris via New York (with a free stopover in New York) for $3,800 roundtrip (actually only $3,100 after applying the Panama law of a 25 percent discount on the basic price of a ticket for men over 60 and women over 55 years of age). The same itinerary starting and ending in New York (excluding the Panama-New York-Panama portion) costs $5,400.

That means that a New York resident could get the cheaper rate from Panama if he bought a roundtrip ticket from New York to Panama for approx $600 (excluding high season). Amazing!
Keith Glickenhaus

Not HAApy
I am so very not happy with American Airlines. Recently, my husband and I booked a flight on American Airlines between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This was the tail end of a very long flight from Africa that we flew on another carrier. The flight was supposed to depart at 8:45pm after a few hours layover at LAX.

When we got to the airport, we noticed the flight was delayed by 30 minutes. But then, as you can imagine, it was delayed further. After 10pm (after another flight on American had departed to SFO on time for a 10pm or so departure), we were finally able to board. Or so we thought. After about 20 people boarded, it was time for Group 1 to board, which was our group, but they told us that maintenance was onboard the aircraft so they needed to hold up boarding.

After waiting, they said we could start boarding. But when we reached the door of the plane, we were met with a visibly perturbed flight attendant who was telling the other American employee there that she would not let anyone else on board the plane because no cockpit crew had been assigned for the flight. We stood and waited a bit more until she said we could board–a pilot and crew who were currently flying in from Chicago were assigned the flight. (I should explain that the plane had flown in from SFO but all of the crew had gone home because they went “illegal” meaning they had worked the full allotment of time allowed for their shift.)

As we boarded, I overheard another flight attendant tell someone that the flight crew wasn’t due to fly into LAX until 11:15pm–a full hour’s wait. But at no time did they announce this to everyone getting onboard.

I was so tired after our original flights that started at 4:10am in Africa, that I fell asleep while the plane was on the tarmac. Around midnight, the passengers got the news that the flight was cancelled because the cockpit crew from Chicago had also timed out. How could they not be able to figure that out earlier? Why load all those people on the plane knowing that there was no flight crew that could fly them to San Francisco?

Having a flight canceled after you’re dead tired from a very long day of flights is never fun, but I had the added frustration of knowing that we’d let our dog sitter go home earlier in the day when we got to LAX so our puppy would be spending the night alone–something I very much hated for her because I knew she would be scared.

We all got off the plane to wait in a very long line to get vouchers for a hotel stay and food vouchers. We were not offered other compensation like money toward a future flight or frequent flyer miles. One of the women at the American counter mentioned the hotel we were going to was “nice”. I can tell you that that woman has never been to that hotel! It was a dump in a questionable area. And to add to the “fun” of staying there, when we got home, we noticed they had charged us $3 on our credit card. I can’t imagine what they were saying we purchased. It was after 1am when we arrived and the hotel restaurant was closed.

American booked us on a flight on United for the following morning so even the food vouchers they gave us weren’t accepted at most of the restaurants because United flies out of a different terminal than American.

I wrote to American through their website to ask for compensation in the form of frequent flyer miles. But the contact form does not allow for many characters so it’s impossible to explain all of the reasons you are upset. It wasn’t that the flight was cancelled, it was the total incompetence of how American’s employees handled the situation and their decision not to tell the whole truth to their customers.

I received a letter saying they would not give me any frequent flyer miles. I tried to respond, but got a “this is an unmonitored account” message back.

So, I’m not getting any frequent flyer miles in compensation and I am not at all happy with American Airlines. I have their credit card and have been thinking of moving more business to them because I don’t like the direction Delta and United have gone toward a revenue-based program, but after this, I’ll try to avoid American completely and will try to spend all of my miles as quickly as I can. And I will cancel the AA credit card.

Southwest Airlines is not as good as it used to be, but when I had a cancelled flight with them, they automatically gave everyone on board $100 vouchers toward another flight. That is so much better than the way that American handled this. That $100 voucher wouldn’t get me another completely free flight, but it made me feel better and kept me as a customer. That’s smart business.
Anonymous in SF

Assiduous Flatterers
I recently read an interesting article by Thomas Frank, a Salon politics and culture columnist and wanted to share some quotes about frequent flyers:

“The airlines themselves are particularly assiduous flatterers of this key demographic, forever reminding the business traveler that the place he has entered is a magical realm of high-tech ease and deep human concern for his every need; that each treasured business traveler is in fact a member of a prestigious association of accomplished professionals, a person of elite status. Excuse me, a person of premier diamond elite medallion status, maybe even a person so exalted that his status must be kept secret from the world. Oh, and how much savvier is he than the clueless folk who travel but once or twice a year and clutter up the gate like a herd of cattle.”

“I suspect there aren’t that many true Point-One Percenters among the airlines’ elite programs, either–those people are taking private jets. And the prestige the platinum pendant enjoys is actually that of a conscientious consumer, a champion collector of green stamps, a hamster who has really made that ol’ wheel spin. The life of the real elite goes on somewhere else.”

“The truth is that almost no one knows who you are and even fewer care. You may be an emerald coronet five-million miler–and still you have to let some guy from the TSA go through your luggage in the middle of a glorified shopping mall.”
Timbor Rutherford

What’s the Point? Where are the Points?
What’s the point? Sometimes I get very frustrated with hotels that do not follow through with the benefits I’m supposed to get as an elite member. It seems like almost every hotel group I have elite status with at some point has not come through with the benefits they say are available but one of the worst is Best Western.

As a Diamond member, I’m supposed to be offered the “best available room” at check-in. This pretty much never, and I mean never, happens. I realize that there aren’t a lot of true “upgrades” available at most Best Western properties but even when I know there are better rooms, and they look like they are available to book online, they don’t offer it to me at check-in. Most of the time, since I travel for business and am alone, I just don’t bother asking. I don’t feel like I should HAVE to ask.

Maybe it’s because Best Western properties are franchised and not everyone “got the memo.” As a Diamond, I’m also supposed to get a welcome snack and beverage or 250 bonus points. I’ve stopped asking for the points because they never show up in my account–that’s when they offer me anything at all.

I’ve had the same issue as an IHG Rewards Club Platinum member. Sometimes I’m not offered anything at all but when I’ve been offered snack or points and I opt for the points, I don’t get them. I’d rather get the snack than nothing at all. I really don’t want to try to hunt down 250 bonus points.
In the long run, it’s just not that important, but when you work toward getting elite status, you want the benefits to be there for you without having to ask for them.
Thomas Stauton

Stacking Awards
My 2015 is stacking up pretty well. I always hear how no one can get an award seat, but I’ve booked three roundtrip flights on United for 2015. One, I booked 337 days out and the other two, nine and seven months out. I, of course, didn’t get the best departure times and routes but it’s not that bad. I’ve also booked a flight on Delta, Alaska and Southwest. Yes, I’m a planner! But it didn’t turn out so bad for me and I’m looking forward to some great trips, all because I use my credit cards strategically and max out on bonuses whenever I can. Now, I just need to see what hotels to book. Happy New Year!
S. Ackerman