This was all part of a presentation in a ballroom at Frequent Traveler University — after giving a talk on the basics of award booking, making the most of your miles, the idea was to bring the lessons together and watch them in practice.
I had managed to get a telephone agent to construct an award on Saudia and on Aeroflot between New York JFK and Delhi — after running through all of the standard traps of a Delta agent not knowing who their partners are, not seeing award availability, and not thinking it was a permissable routing.
Now it was Lucky’s turn to walk the audience through an award.
Lucky’s Attempt to Book a US Airways Dividend Miles Business Class Award to Asia
We wanted this exercise to illustrate the pitfalls and also the opportunities involved in booking an award, and work through some of the common challenges so that folks in the audience could be aware of them and know how to overcome them in their own bookings.
So for this one the goal was an award from San Francisco to Hong Kong with a stopover in Bangkok. US Airways charges 90,000 miles for business class to Hong Kong, but charges 120,000 miles for business class to Thailand. Would the agent go along and consider it a 90,000 mile award?
And to further complicate things, a return flight was selected through Tokyo Haneda airport on ANA that left just after midnight… and arrived in Los Angeles the previous afternoon. This would show the challenges US Airways has in easily finding flights in the wee hours of the morning, and the problem many agents have understanding time zone changes.
Here’s the routing Lucky was proposing: San Francisco – Taipei – Bangkok (EVA Airways) – Hong Kong (Thai Airways) – Tokyo Haneda – Los Angeles (ANA) – San Francisco (United).
Leading the Agent through the Call
While I started off with the Delta agent just telling her about the first segment that I wanted (to Riyadh), on this call Lucky told the agent he wanted to go to Hong Kong — remember, he wanted to emphasize that was his destination.
Agents at US Airways manually price awards, rather than having the computer tell them the mileage price based on the itinerary. So he wanted her to think “Hong Kong” when looking up the price.
Some argue that “either city you stop in” could be the stopover or the destination, and US Airways doesn’t generally charge a higher price for stopping in Europe enroute to Asia even though they charge more miles for Europe-Asia than for North America-Asia.
But the destination should reasonably be defined as the stop which is also your point of turnaround, and since Bangkok is further from the starting city than Hong Kong, it should be the destination. I think I just made half the US Airways telephone booking agents’ collective heads explode. And so ‘Hong Kong as destination’ was the goal.
The agent asked whether he wanted to fly on US Airways or partners? (Never mind that US Airways does not have any Asia flights.) And in response to flying partners she said, “you’re going to have to bear with me, this is really complicated” or something to that effect.
She started searching herself but was having difficulty, so seemed to appreciate being spoonfed flights… and even the identifies of partner airlines (“EVA Airways is BR, that’s Bravo Romeo, so I’m looking for October 2 flight BR27…”).
She seemed surprised, but everything was working great1 At least until the return from Hong Kong.
Flying from Tokyo Haneda to Los Angeles proved a challenge — you usually have to ask the agent to search the prior day in order to find flights just after midnight.
With that trick the flight came back available. But arriving at LAX at 6pm the previoous day just made no sense at all. She could not find the United flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco to complete the itinerary because she was searching the wrong day for it.
This conundrum lasted awhile and the agent had the presence of mind to set up the itinerary with passenger information and close the record before she timed out after 15 minutes and had to start everything over again.
That’s an important tip with US Airways — awards can take awhile to spoon feed to agents, and if the call is taking awhile it’s a good idea to create a reservation, get a record locator, and then continue to finish the rest of the trip.
Multiple calls to supervisors did get the award priced at 90,000 miles in business class, but no resolution on the date issue. All of the supervisors were convinced that the flight taking off after midnight from Tokyo would arrive in Los Angeles the next day rather than the day before.
But since the session was out of time, the itinerary was left on hold, theoretically to discuss the international date line with a future stream of supervisors in order to get the award ultimately ticketed.
Live Award Bookings Turn Out to Be a Useful Educational Tool
Lucky has already shared his side of the story, so read his version of events and compare, and maybe gleam some different lessons..
Doing ‘live television’ is risky, ultimately I think the demonstration came off well (although I’m sure we can do a better job with the amplification of the calls and with pausing and handling questions during hold time). At the very least, we weren’t embarrassed and I think that these were good illustrations that could help folks with the phone calls to make their own award bookings.