I just ticketed two awards which will blow your mind (unfortunately I am not permitted to talk about them or FT will beat me up), and as you may know if you follow me on Twitter I had the wonderful enjoyment of having conversations with
call center agents sales representatives (that’s what the hold music calls them) from the US Airways Dividend Miles desk, of course, with extremely long wait times.
Let me walk you through some of the fun I had. Also here are some tips to deal with the agents that might be useful if you are trying to book an
clearly illegal interesting routing.
When I’m trying to feed them the flights I personally feel that it is awkward when saying that I got disconnected, so generally what I’ll do is just let them do a feeble attempt. If they fail, I’ll feed them flights. I nearly never ticket on the first go-around with the agent (and maybe I should), but I always put it on hold. So it doesn’t really matter for me.
Hopefully the call centre volume will not be that heavy, so I’ll call back and fix the “dummy” routing one segment at a time. I also tend not to ticket without the agent doing something with the ticket (changing/deleting segment) because often they’ll look at the ticket (and this is particularly true with itineraries with lots of segments) get confused, and send it to the rate desk.
From experience their computers will price essentially everything. As long as the MCT will work, and you’re not going REALLY REALLY CRAZY.
But I got this to work:
You can see the four segment path in red, Hong Kong-Singapore-Tokyo Narita-Chicago-Vancouver is
nearly twice the length of the direct HKG-YVR flight. This routing is also way over the TPAC 25M routing, which is 9573 miles. Way way over! But it still ticketed. 😉 So what I do is I ask for the taxes and the miles. Generally, if they can pull that up before checking everything, you have a fairly good chance to ticket.
I honestly hate the rate desk. I would say 99% of the time, if you have an illegal routing, they’ll say it’s invalid, and the poor agent will
delusionally believe make up some bogus reason about why your itinerary is invalid. In my opinion, you want to AVOID THEM you usually get a bad outcome. If you don’t get the agent to “do” anything before ticketing, then it doesn’t feel like s/he’s “seen” the ticket. If that happens then once they actually look at the ticket, then you have a chance of them getting confused about whether it’s valid or not. You don’t even want them to have the thought of questioning whether the itinerary is valid, because every agent looks at it differently. Your itinerary needs to look as clean as possible.
One last thing: when I need a *click* is say I really need to get to a meeting so I’ll call back, or I’ll think about what flights to take and I’ll call back. It usually almost works.
So here’s basically how my calls went:
Agent #1: “No, I can only book what shows up on my screen, and I don’t see any dates in August or September which have space.” *Click*
Sir, I’ll need to send that to the rate desk to see whether it’s valid. Please hold….
Sir, both the departure and the return will not work, because it’s invalid.
I ask: “why?”
The agent says I’m not sure, I can’t ticket. It’s illegal and the computer won’t allow it.
(I call BS!).
Let me look for something that will work. She comes back 10 minutes later with all the segments except one in business class.
I say, please leave the segments as-is, thank you (not)! *click*
Agent #3: (Luckily) I do not think the previous agent made a record. So I patch up the dummy routing. What I do is “swap” in some segments. After all, to the agent, SYD-SIN-MNL looks pretty similar to SYD-BKK-NRT, right? The return works, but the departure doesn’t.
Agent #somewhereinbetween: Sir, it looks like your are connecting in NRT which is a bit north. That violates your minimum connect times so this ticket is invalid. Sigh…
And a few more duds.
Agent #8: Again, relatively intelligent, checks the ticket, and she says:
“Sir, you are transiting another region, which means your ticket should price at 120,000 miles (which officially is correct but so far this is the only agent that has pointed this out) because you’re transiting Asia.”
I think now my reservation is pretty much toast, so I asked her to cancel. Back to square one.
Agent #9: Seemed the most intelligent of them all put together two holds on two tickets, each with 8 segments, in 5 minutes. Colour me impressed. Then she went to the rates desk and comes back saying your connection via NRT isn’t valid. She says she is trying the same flights as the return (via TPE), and nothing seems to show up (that’s because the BR flight is only bi-weekly!). She then tells me to just wait it out and see if anything opens up.
Agent #10: Really nice, looks at my ticket, thinks its nice and clean, and tickets! Easy and simple!
I swear I wasn’t drunk. 😉 I honestly think why the agent roulette stopped at 10 was really pure luck. Agent 9 simply somehow noted the reservation that the departure was invalid, on one of the tickets only. The ticket which had the invalid notation somehow got the segments deleted on the departure, which agent 9 said was invalid. The other ticket had no such indication (which was the one with the intact flights). So with two different agents just a few minutes apart, one notices that its invalid, and the other doesn’t. This is why hanging up and calling back is so important.
I could have booked this if I was lucky in three calls (or less). Or it could have taken me a lot longer. Honestly, when you are doing routing that look clearly weird (take for example YVR-DEN, JFK-ICN-BKK-HKG, HKG-SIN-NRT-ORD-YVR: that’s right, I got a stopover AND an open jaw, as well as clearly invalid routing both ways), it will take a bit of luck and a lot of calling. But the more you “know” about how to approach the call center, the higher the probability you will get to ticket something. That’s why some award booking services might be really helpful if you don’t want to deal with that (although they might not accept your request).
So I hoped my rant might help you in the future as you burn your RT business class award to North Asia for 90,000 miles. 😉
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