The other day, I booked my first award ticket through a phone reservations office. I wanted to spend 67,500 American Airlines miles to fly from the US to Bangkok in Cathay Pacific first class. Cathay Pacific awards can’t be booked via the AA.com website, so you have to call American at 1-800-433-7300 to book your award where they’ll charge you a $25 per person booking fee for this (in)convenience.
My award wasn’t completely straightforward, though, since I wanted to add on a free one-way to my ticket. The most important part of my ticket was SFO to HKG to BKK in Cathay Pacific first and business (the flight that I booked from HKG to BKK is served by a 2-cabin plane), but American allows for stopovers at international gateway cities. Since SFO is my international gateway city, that means I could add a free domestic one-way in first class (subject to some rules that are better explained on other blogs) prior to my trip to BKK. I decided that I might as well use this opportunity to get a free one-way ticket from NY and get the chance to experience American’s Flagship Service, so the actual routing that I wanted to book was JFK to SFO, stopover in SF for several months, then SFO to HKG to BKK.
After calling the reservations line and inputing my information, I was given the option to hang up and get a call back later. This took about 30 minutes. When I got called back, the agent on the line was initially quite friendly, but as soon as I asked if I could read her some flight numbers, her mood quickly turned. At this point, I probably should have hung up and called again. It’s not that she was unfriendly per se, but she definitely seemed a little resentful that I wasn’t letting her find my flights.
I read her the flights that I wanted, and at first, everything was fine since I had already confirmed that space existed using the British Airways website, but she wanted to price out the award at 100,000 miles–32.5k for JFK to SFO + 67.5k for SFO to HKG to BKK.
Here’s a brief version of the conversation:
Me: “Is there a reason why this award priced as two separate one ways and not a single award with a stopover?”
Agent: “You can’t stopover for so long. You’re flying to SF in July and not continuing on for several months.”
Me: “Is there a time limit to a stopover? I thought that they could be of any length, and you’re allowed to take a stopover at the international gateway city.”
Agent: “Yeah, I think you’re right about the stopover. Let me put you on hold… So you’re allowed to have a stopover if you’re transiting from Asia 1 to Asia 2, but you’re just going straight to Asia 2 from the US, so it’s not allowed”
Agent: “Yes, if you wanted a stopover in Tokyo, that’d be fine, since Tokyo is in Asia 1 while Bangkok is in Asia 2. But Hong Kong and Bangkok are both in Asia 2, so you can’t have a stopover.”
Me: “So you’re telling me that I can only have a stopover in San Francisco if I transit from Asia 1 to Asia 2?”
Agent: “Yep, that’s right.”
Me: (this agent doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so I know that I need to hang up and call again) “Can I just put this ticket on hold for now and book it later?”
Agent: “Why do you want to put it on hold? I’m just going to put a note on your account saying that I told you that you can’t have a stopover unless you transit from Asia 1 to Asia 2”
Me: (eff me, this is not good) “What if I just drop the JFK to SFO leg? Can I just put the SFO to BKK part on hold”
Agent: “Yeah, okay”
So at the end of my very lengthy phone call, I only got the SFO to HKG to BKK part put on hold, but I figured that I’d try calling back later to add on my free one way.
To my surprise, about 20 minutes later, I got another call from American. This time, it was a supervisor who said that she had heard about the award that I was trying to book and she thought that what I was doing was fine, so she had contacted the rate desk to force through my original award for only 67,500 miles. Score!
It still took quite a while for the whole thing to get booked as she had to contact the rate desk multiple times (partly because the taxes weren’t calculating correctly), but at the end of the day, I got my routing booked for 67,500 AA miles and only $5 in fees since she waived the phone reservation fee. The supervisor was also really apologetic for how long everything had taken me, and I really commend her for taking the extra step and making sure that things were right.
All in all, it took me about 2 hours from my initial call to the reservations line to the time I got everything booked. Granted, most of that time was being put on hold so I was able to get some other work done, but I definitely have a newfound appreciation for all of the award-booking services out there.