I have written many times before about how difficult the award booking process with US Airways can be. Most recently, I wrote about how US Air’s incompetence resulted in two different award options becoming unavailable for a client because they were not able to find the availability quickly enough. Dealing with that level of incompetency can be extremely frustrating, but dealing with outright lies brings frustration to a whole new level.
A few weeks ago, I began working on an award availability search to Australia for Rick. This trip is to be scheduled for November 2015, so we began searching for availability as soon as it was possible to do so. Based on the rewards currencies available for this trip, we ended up deciding on using US Air miles.
Unlike American Airlines, US Air actually allows award bookings to Australia via Asia. Since there was not any award availability with Qantas, my next option was to try to find availability with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. We could not find anything that lined up perfectly with Cathay, so we turned our attention to Japan Airlines (JAL). We were able to put together a great first class itinerary with JAL. After getting the green light to complete the booking from Rick, it was time to call US Air.
As an award booker, finding availability is usually the hardest part of the job. However, when US Air Dividend Miles are involved, finding availability can be a piece of cake compared to the actual call to customer service.
First Phone Call to US Air
The first call took place at a time when there was inclement weather in some parts of the U.S. It is not uncommon for waiting times to be longer when there are severe weather events, and airlines usually do a good job of letting you know about potential longer-than-usual waiting times. Some airlines, like American, will call you back automatically if you prefer not to wait on the phone. What did US Air do? Via an automated message, they told me that they were too busy handling their higher-than-usual volume of calls, requested I call back later, and then simply disconnected the call. Yes, that is right, they will not even give you the option of waiting if you so prefer. They simply cut the call! Mind you, this was after I was forced to listen to an automated message regarding the merger with American, and after I selected what option I need assistance with, so I’d already spent a couple of minutes on the phone.
Second Call to US Air
Since I speak Spanish, one of the tricks I use to cut waiting times on the phone with airlines is calling their respective Spanish line or selecting the Spanish-assistance option. This usually results in much shorter waiting times. However, in the case of US Air, I have often found Spanish customer service agents to be even more incompetent than their English-speaking counterparts, mainly because it does not seem that they are trained to work on international award bookings. Nonetheless, since I already knew that I was not going to be able to talk to an English-speaking agent, I called US Air’s reservation number and selected the assistance in Spanish option.
Within two minutes I knew I was not going to get anywhere with the first agent I spoke with. She did not know the airport codes to Tokyo-Narita or Sydney. Therefore, instead of potentially wasting 30+ minutes with this agent trying to complete the booking, I decided to HUCA (hang up and call again).
Third Call to US Air
This Spanish-speaking agent seemed to have a better understanding of what she was doing. I gave her all the flight info and dates. There were US Air and JAL flights involved in this itinerary. She had no problem finding availability on the US Air flights (thank God!), but immediately upon trying to work on the JAL flights, we hit a road block.
This was not surprising to me. Ever since US Air joined the oneworld Alliance, they’ve had a lot of trouble finding availability on JAL and Malaysia Airlines flights. I told the agent about my previous issues trying to book US Air awards that involved JAL and asked her to request assistance from a supervisor, which had worked for me before. She put me on hold for about 10 minutes. I was certainly not ready for what I was about to hear when she returned to the call.
Lies, Lies, Lies
The agent came back to the call and told me that she was able to see the flights, but that they were not able to book awards on them because they did not have access to JAL award availability for flights taking place in November 2015. Furthermore, she told me that we would not be able to book the return because they could not book awards for travel on any airline past November 11, 2015 (the return date for this trip was November 15, 2015).
As for not being able to book awards travel on any airline past November 11, 2015, this was an absolutely outrageous lie. First of all, at the time, you could book awards on the US Air website for travel up to November 18, 2015. Furthermore, all the dates I was looking for clearly fell within the 330-day window, which is when US Air opens up award availability.
As for not being able to book awards that involved JAL flights taking place in November 2015, this did not make any sense to me given that I knew that other US Air partners had access to these flights.
At this time, I asked to speak with a supervisor. After about another 10 minutes on hold, I was connected. I never even discussed the return dates issue, given that I knew that would be a moot point if they could not find the JAL award availability.
The supervisor insisted that they did not have access to JAL awards for November 2015. I told her that this was unlikely given that other oneworld partners had award access to the flights I was looking for. She responded by saying that US Air does not necessarily have the same access as other partners.
Now, you could say this was another lie, given that I have never seen any concrete evidence of US Air not having the same access to awards on other oneworld airlines as their partners.
I asked her to check when was the latest date she could find award availability for JAL to see if we could pinpoint any cut-off dates. She started looking and after a while, told me that the first date in which she could see JAL award availability was September 1st, which was about nine and a half months out. This did not make any sense to me, considering I had booked numerous US Air awards that involved JAL flights 10-11 months out.
After realizing I was going nowhere with this agent and considering that I had already spent 45 minutes on this call, I decide to cut my losses and end our conversation. I informed Rick of what was happening and told him that I would give it one more try the next morning. If the results were the same, I would start looking for alternatives not involving JAL.
Fourth Call to US Air
Even though this agent confessed that she had never booked an international award, after about 40 minutes, the reservation (including four JAL flights) was on hold. Unbelievable, considering what I had been told less than 12 hours earlier.
While it is possible that there might have been system issues that prevented US Air from booking awards the night before, I find it unlikely. What is more likely is that as soon as the agents had trouble trying to find the JAL award availability, they incorrectly concluded that it was not possible to do so and then resorted to lies to try to justify their incompetence.
On a positive note, a few days later I was able to book a second award with US Air in only 18 minutes. This was by far the shortest time I have ever spent booking an award with US Air over the phone, which proves that they do have some competent agents.
[Image via Getty]
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