Make It Right!
By Ron Rosenberg
When you have a relationship with a company, there's a certain level of trust that comes with familiarity and experience.
For example, when I make reservations online with my regular airline, I'm comfortable with the layout of the site; I know how to formulate a search for the best routing; and I know how to find the best fares, whether paying with cash or frequent-flyer miles.
One of the benefits of working closely with a company is the benefits they can offer as a reward for your loyalty. In the airline world, this takes the form of frequent-flyer miles, upgrades, and elite status.
In my own case, I have high-level status levels on two of the major US carriers, with benefits that make regular travel more comfortable.
This year, though, I was going to come up a little short on the actual flown miles I'd need to maintain "Platinum" level, so I used a common practice known as a "mileage run."
A Trip to Nowhere?
Essentially, a mileage run is a trip you plan to travel on a route that delivers the miles you need for the lowest possible cost-per-mile. Sometimes this means getting up very early, flying to the west coast, and then turning right around and flying home, all on the same day.
Although it can be tiring, this isn't as bad as it might sound - because of my current status, even if I don't get a free upgrade first class, at least I can sit in the front of the coach section where the seats have extra legroom.
And with A/C power ports and reasonably fast Wi-Fi available on most flights, I plug in, connect to the Internet, and get some focused work time with minimal distractions.
This whole process might seem a bit like overkill, but if you fly, you know that certain frequent-flyer levels bring with them significant benefits that make this well worth the effort.
Let's Book It!
So with this in mind, I took some time to find a routing that would deliver the required mileage with minimal wear and tear on my bank account...and my body - because, let's face it, at the end of the day, flying is essentially traveling in cramped spaces in a long metal tube that combines and recirculates the air supply for hundreds of passengers.
After a bit of research, I came up with a routing that would push me just over the threshold at a cost of just over $0.04/mile - a reasonable rate for sure.
The only problem? When I was done selecting my seats and confirming the flight details, I hit the "Purchase Tickets" button...only to receive a message that that fare was no longer available, and quoted me a rate $150 higher.
Uh...Sounds Like "Bait and Switch!"
While I understand that airlines have different fare classes and use complex "yield management" systems that determine pricing and inventory for each class, it seemed unlikely that the fare would rise that much in such a short period of time.
So, just for fun, I started over, selected the exact same flights...and was offered the same low rate I had originally!
This time, I skipped the seat-selection process, went directly to the purchase page, hit the button, and...you guessed it...got the same message that the lower fare wasn't available. Sensing a problem, I repeated the process, this time taking screenshots to document what was happening.
Let's Get This Fixed!
I called the airline's reservation line and explained the situation to the representative. He asked which flights I was trying to book, looked them up in his system, and found them...for $60 more than the rate I originally had on the website.
Just to make sure I wasn't imagining it, I entered the flights again on the website, found the same low fare I started with and explained this to the agent.
He said no problem, he would take care of it for me. This was all taking place at a little past 9:00 pm, and I was a little tired, but he sounded confident, and I figured it wouldn't take very long for him to get this all sorted out.
I was wrong.
How Many Reservations Agents Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?
What should have taken no more than ten minutes ended up with me on and off hold for over an hour while he checked with various people to get the correct fare booked.
He finally came back and said he could get it down to just $4 over the original price. I said that was certainly close enough, and he booked it and got me the seats I wanted.
At this point, I had already spent an hour and 16 minutes on the call, and it was almost 10:30, so I thanked him for his help and went to sleep.
Good Morning...Welcome to The Wrong Flights!
The next morning I checked my email and found the reservation. The only problem was that the return flights were all wrong - he had me on four flights instead of the three we had talked about, and the seats weren't correct either.
I wasn't happy about this, so I waited for an hour to make sure the "day shift" would be staffing the phones so someone could get me the original flights, confirm that the miles would get me past the threshold level, and offer something in the form of compensation because the website didn't work, it took over an hour to get the fare corrected, and that wasn't even done right.
It Took a While But...
I first called the Corporate customer-service line, but it turns out they only help with problems after the flight has been completed.
So I started with another reservation agent who reviewed the situation and said she'd transfer me to the "reissue department" since she simply couldn't find the original fare I had.
The agent from that department came on the line next, I explained everything again, and she said there was nothing she could do because the original flights I had were now pricing out at $380 more than the price I had on the website the day before!
I said I appreciated her help, but stood firm that this really wasn't an acceptable outcome. I asked who would be able to work with me and make the situation right.
After a short wait, I was finally connected to a supervisor who reviewed everything, agreed that it was completely unacceptable, and went through the process of reissuing the tickets with the correct flights at the original rates.
He got me the right seats on each flight and then spent a fair amount of time researching each flight to make sure the actual mileage from the trip would be sufficient to get me to the right level for 2018.
He then offered me a voucher I could use towards flights because of the problems I had and the time I had to spend to purchase a flight that should have taken no more than ten minutes.
This is a perfect example of how a situation can go one of two ways depending on how it's handled.
I'm a loyal traveler on this particular airline, even though I have a grandfathered lifetime status on another airline. In terms of lifetime value, I'm easily worth over $250,000 to an airline, so it makes sense to ensure my satisfaction - the value of the travel voucher certainly was a drop in the bucket when compared to this number.
When there's a problem and it's corrected quickly and definitively, a customer's level of loyalty to a company can actually increase.
It took some effort, but in the end, the supervisor recognized the problem, agreed that it wasn't handled properly, and did what he needed to fix it satisfactorily.
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