Hang Up And Call Again: Do’s And Don’ts

For several years prior to July 31, 2016, I had a full time job in Australia and also a full-time hobby. That hobby was calling US Airways Dividend Miles and booking some of the most ridiculous and ambitious award travel I have ever undertaken.

A small part of me died with that program but I did get plenty of free time back, although Tiffany’s bathroom hasn’t been as clean since.

Of course, before, during, and ever since that time I’ve spent plenty of time talking to multiple frequent flyer program phone agents at all times of the day and night, in all parts of the world. In total, I’ve probably spent weeks both speaking to them, being on hold, and hanging up and calling again for a better result.

Their style, speed, and abilities vary enormously. From Avianca LifeMiles, which was like something from a very bad comedy skit, to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, whose no-nonsense efficiency ticketed a multi-sector, multi-carrier award in less than three minutes.

You’ll often see advice online that if an agent is unable or unwilling to do or find something you were expecting they could, to ‘HUACA,’ or ‘Hang Up And Call Again’.

Here are some important things to remember for your next award booking by phone, for something you cannot do online.

KrisFlyer’s excellent phone agents allow you to book Singapore Airlines A350 quickly and efficiently

Do: Be polite and respectful

It can be very frustrating when you’ve been on hold for a very long time, and you would much rather be doing something else. Dinner might be burning on the stove, or you might be late for work but don’t take out these frustrations on whoever eventually answers. You need their assistance, and they are just doing their job.

You don’t need to waste further time exchanging many pleasantries or small talk but they are unlikely to go the extra ‘mile’ for you if you are rude or short with them. If they ask how I am I ask them the same and then launch into the reason for my call.

You do not want to get them off-side when you need their help.

Dont: Be afraid to take control of the call where appropriate

I loved the agents at US Airways. They were lovely. But often their geography and knowledge of their partner airlines was not the best, to put it very mildly.

When I asked them to search for flights to a particular destination and they seemed to not even know the destination, I didn’t have much faith they would be able to find the exact flights I had very carefully found availability for. So rather than being put on hold again for 10+ minutes while they fumbled around I would take control. I would politely offer flights that ‘I believe may be available,’ using airport and airline codes, and flight numbers.

This saved everyone time and they were usually actually grateful that I made their job a bit easier.

Great airline. Odd loyalty program.

Do: End the call if it is going nowhere

Sometimes no matter how polite or helpful the agent may seem, they are unable or unwilling to do what you called for and your time is being wasted by continuing the call. If they continue to put you on hold for seemingly no reason this may be a sign to end things. Where possible, don’t just hang up while you are on hold. If you’ve hit a stalemate politely say something like ‘okay I’ll have a think about it’ or ‘I might think about something else then.’

Thank them for their help and hang up.

Do: Know what is and isn’t possible

Dividend Miles had rules clearly posted on their award chart and some actual serious restrictions like Maximum Permitted Mileage. Some agents knew and enforced them. Some agents knew them but didn’t bother enforcing them, especially as the North Carolina based agents got closer to the American Airlines merger and may have been out of a job. But some agents didn’t know the rules at all.

So, there weren’t that many limits in what you could and couldn’t book, especially as many of their processes had to be done manually by agents.

Of course, programs like AAdvantage and KrisFlyer are generally extremely strict on their rules. They have very competent agents and computer-generated processes that cannot be overrode by standard agents. I wouldn’t dream of asking an AAdvantage agent to book Etihad from North America to Asia, and expect to pay a single award rate, no matter how many agents I spoke to.

You could call 100 times and they will still say no because they can’t do this even if they want to (which they don’t!). As technology has improved to manage routing rules and pricing itineraries, there’s far less opportunity to ‘game’ the system than there used to be.

I never actually set foot on a US Airways plane but gosh I was familiar with its loyalty program! (RIP my great love)

Dont: Forget who you spoke to!

If you are hanging up and calling again repeatedly, depending on the time of day/night and size of the call centre you may speak to the exact same agent repeatedly. If you have a sheet of paper/memo with your preferred routes written down, it’s a good idea to write down the name of the agent when they answer. Don’t be afraid to politely ask for the agent’s name if you don’t hear it as they answer. It can be extremely embarrassing to launch into saying ‘I want to book XXX’ and they quickly respond with ‘yes I know I told you it wasn’t available two minutes ago!

Wait 60 seconds before dialling again, to ensure that agent picks up another caller first!

Do: Escalate when you are confident you are correct

I’ve become pretty well versed at the award charts and routing rules of the various programs I book award travel through so I’m fairly confident of what is and isn’t allowed. I once booked a Virgin Atlantic flight through Virgin Australia Velocity program and the agent insisted fees and taxes of over $500 were payable.

I knew Velocity did not impose fuel surcharges on awards so told the agent so. They insisted that they did. I politely asked the agent to escalate this to a supervisor. She came back saying the supervisor had recalculated the fees and taxes and the new figure was…

$13.70.

I shudder to think how many previous passengers were slugged this huge fuel surcharge incorrectly, because the agent didn’t know the rules of their own program.

Dont: Risk a negative note on your booking or account

The easiest way to do this is to be polite or respectful. If you are rude or abusive, no matter how frustrated you might be that they cannot confirm the seat you believe exists or make the change you want, or understand the routing rules like you do, you risk that agent ending the call.

But even worse they may put a note in your booking or your account that you are requesting something you are not allowed.

Then it’s game over and you’ll never get what you want.

My first ever long-haul premium flight was this casual jaunt through Dividend Miles

Do: Know when to admit defeat

Playing the ‘agent roulette’ of hanging up and calling again can be fun and exciting. Especially when ‘your number comes up’ quickly. But it can become tiring and frustrating the longer you spend on the phone and the more agents you have to speak to.

You need to put a value on your time.

Say you believe you were incorrectly charged 1,000 more miles than you should have been. If you need to spend two hours on hold on the phone in order to rectify this, and you value those miles at say, $15, then what’s more important to you?

Bottom Line

Technology will eventually mean most, if not all tasks airline phone agents do can be done online. The margin and flexibility of the rules will be almost zero. But for now, there are still some things that can only be done by phone, and a few small adjustments can make a dramatic difference to your call center experience.

Remember these key methods and you’ll have the best chance of getting what you want.

What is your strategy when calling a loyalty program?

Comments

  1. This is genius, thank you so much!

    You are so right, always, always be exceptionally polite, even when very frustrated. I have learned the hard way, just be as nice and friendly as possible. If something is not right, it’s almost never that agent’s fault. Remember, they are talking to people all day, many of whom are frustrated. I’ve talked to so many phone agents who say that a lot of people are really upset and abusive.

    So you can be that different customer that will brighten their day. Engaging in small talk and pleasantries can go a long way, as long as you know when to stop and get down to business, and usually they will let you know.

    A small productivity tip that everyone probably already knows – use a headset (my favorite are Apple AirPods) and be productive and get something done when you on hold, like going through your mail, deleting pictures on your phone you don’t need, going through and deleting junk mail, playing the guitar, etc.

  2. @ James

    On the sport +1
    You sad it all!..most important for me.. be precise in what you want and be well prepared to channel their search to your goals..success and the feeling helpful are giving them boost that they are doing well in their job and you are getting what you want..
    Lastly, be patience and humble nice..you are dependent on their coopration to get to your goals…and always show gratitude..it won’t snap your neck to be grateful..

  3. Rest of the world talks down about the Americans but has no problems using American institutions as piggy banks, whether it is European countries underfunding NATO, asking the US to fund the UN, world bank and the IMF or using the generous airline miles programs.

    Keep that in mind when America treats your country like a bitch next time. You suckled on America’s teats when you didn’t deserve it.

  4. I had a big problem with aeroplan booking me pair o Eva flights to yyz. The first agent was nice and checked pretty much the whole of North america, no luck. The next day the lady who took the call was already in a foul mood, didn’t want to check other airports and complained about my demands.
    Then third day I got it online (one day later than I wanted).
    My lesson: don’t expect anything from aeroplan. Whatever you get is a bonus. And be flexible as to when you need to fly. If you need to fly at a certain date, just pay cash.

  5. @ debit

    swipe to the left!..you are in the wrong intervention meeting…the America loves Trump council is in room…who cares..NEXT…

  6. Nice one James!!!
    As an Australian, who’s following OMAAT every single day for few years now, genuinely glad that you have join the team. hope you can fill the gap for this region very well. Keep more Aussie content coming.
    Good on ya, mate.
    Cheers

  7. Great article. Although when I notice an error in a booking (ie, it cost 1,000 more miles when it shouldn’t have), I find most airline’s Twitter teams to be pretty competent at dealing with these kinds of issues! Beats having to wait on hold

  8. Boy, do I miss the geographically challenged agents of dividend miles.

    Ironically, it’s the ex-US aadvantage agents that seem to always report no award availability when I know for a fact (thank you, ba.com & qantas) that the seats are there. I usually know exactly what they’re doing wrong (e.g., JAL searches), but another big no-no is telling them how to do there job (“please just search for a revenue ticket in fare code U. I promise it’ll correctly price when you reserve it.”).

    I usually call aadvantage when I know I have a couple hours of mindless work I can do while waiting on hold after calling back a few times.

  9. I will say, I got an AMAZING agent calling AA last week, looking to book a one-way from the US to Fiji. I had the routing I wanted, and the agent laughed (in a good way, like he was surprised) when he saw that there was biz availability on Fiji from LAX to NAN. He had our two tickets booked in five minutes.

  10. “Playing the ‘agent roulette’ of hanging up and calling again can be fun and exciting.”

    Uh… no.

    It is *always* frustrating and annoying to get an agent who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow, or who is completely unwilling to help you, or who needs to check with a supervisor for every little thing, or is simply not empowered (by the airlines rules and management) to help you with your specific request.

    I *hate* having to HUCA and it always leaves me with a very negative impression of the airline I’m calling if I have to do it.

  11. I agree with all your points but at the same time I think the best way to learn is to just simply do it and get experience. I fondly remember US Airways Dividend miles agents and will admit had a note written down once on my reservation (which sucked when calling again to get another agent) but you live and learn.
    Several months ago I booked using KrisFlyer miles SYD-SIN-HKG in Suites class (to fly new Suites and old Suites.) However, there was an equipment change for the SIN-HKG leg from A380 to A350 plane and so I was automatically downgraded to J by the computer. The first KrisFlyer agent I talked to told me I could only waitlist on the other A380 flight later that day as no more saver seats were available (which was true since I checked it online.) However, I called again a few days later and voila! the agent understood exactly why I was calling and somehow someway opened Suites saver space for me on that later A380 flight (mind you I don’t have status on KrisFlyer right now.) I was polite both times but am glad I called again as it never hurts to ask!

  12. @James: also another tip is that the use of social media has really reduced the volatility of HUCA. I had tried to get Flying Blue to book an itinerary for me over the phone (because it contained a Delta J redemption it wouldn’t allow me to finalize online) and they could only see one of the flights as a Flex redemption. I e-mailed KLM through Facebook Messenger and they took care of it no problem. I know that AA’s twitter team is awesome as well.

  13. nice comments, from you Ben, well said, i find its best as you say to end call if getting no where, your best saying , taxi arrived, and leave it for now, so no comments, notes on file. I’ve called airline to change a date, or time, with no chance? then called back next day, and they have changed it ,to what or as near as i required, without asking too much , of course.great web site, many thanks,

  14. RIP, U.S. Air—your planes were upholstered dumpsters but your loyalty program will be forever missed.

  15. Just want to chime in, on top of being polite, after telling the agent what I’m looking for or what I want, when they go type away and what not, I tell them “I appreciate you taking some to help me with this”.

    Seems to help more often then not.

    As the article said above, the most important thing to know is when the conversation starts going nowhere. Usually I just say “Ok, well I’ll need a little bit of time to think about that, thanks for looking that up/checking that out for me, and enjoy the rest of your morning/evening/whatever”

  16. @ Ian – some airlines invest in excellent, helpful social media teams. Etihad is a notable exception – they spend huge amounts on slick marketing campaigns but their social media team seem completely hopeless/powerless to do anything to actually help people other than to say ‘we are sorry you feel that way…’

  17. Debit for President of the USA 😉

    Nice article James, no groundbreaking tip but perfect for a coffee break.

  18. Same applies to hotel loyalty programs, CC concierges, your local telco…

    Case in point: called and asked if Marriott certificate can be extended for 3 months so I can use it for the next booking. Even if I was polite and clearly stating that I’m appreciative if (IF) anything can be done, I got simple NO. Sent the same request through online request form – mine got nothing, my husband’s got extended. Called again 2 weeks later and the agent answering phone had a short bout of a bad cough. Just based on usual, humane reaction “Are you alright? You sound sick!” we started small chat on colds and spring and whatnot, and all was done in a matter of seconds. She felt humane, and I (again) reminded myself that having basic, honest curiosity about the person on the other side of the line makes for so much more pleasant experience for everybody. We are all in “hurry”, we all have “important tasks” to finish, we all have other “priorities” and value our privacy, that basic humanity is being suppressed in name of efficiency. So what if it takes 10 minutes longer? Isn’t that time worth so that your day and agents day are actually a pearly string of simple pleasant experiences, rather than the grueling rut of have-to-must-not?

  19. A good percentage of my calls are to clarify the rules and restrictions before I attempt to make a complicated booking. More often than not, I get an AAgent who either doesn’t know, or worse, gives me the wrong information. Often, I HUACA a series of times until I get more or less a consensus (with a high degree of confidence) before I attempt the booking. And frankly, I can usually tell in the first 30 seconds whether I’ve found a knowledgeable person.

    And, I too, miss the good old days of Dividend Miles – I never had it easier and the transition to AA has been a bumpy ride, to say the least!

  20. There is something that is really isnt right when the customer suffers because of the company’s agent giving wrong information. If say, an incompetent medical professional gave me wrong advice that I acted on resulting in my detriment, there would be consequences. This is no different.

  21. @sakura

    You are right, but as you have heard the others..it seems that incapable staffs get away with it..as long as there is no real consequence for them, why wouldbthey bother..sadly..

  22. The hang up call again lottery is entertaining at times; but often who you call is the most important factor. At the airports the agents in the lounges are more often than not senior agents. I will not hesitate to pay $50 to enter a lounge to inquire with the staff in the lounge about a resolution to an itinerary issue. As an example, an 10 hour layover was a $200 change fee and fare difference via the agent at check in. The agent in the lounge insisted on moving me to the earlier flights and an exit row seats without initiation. The agent at check in did not have the authority to change the flight without fees, or so it would appear.

  23. Great article James. Maybe you shpuld write about ffp that do not provide any service by phone, even for transactions their website cannot process, even for elite members.. I m looking at you Qatar Airways Privilege Club..

  24. Over 10 years ago BA outsourced their amazing NY based Travel agent support desk to a third party in Jacksonville (it’s since been outsourced again to India). I called to ask about a client’s flight and was told that BA doesn’t fly to Heathrow but they do fly to London.

  25. @ Jeffrey Erlbaum – I once had a US Airways agent tell me she couldn’t search for flights from Sydney because US Airways didn’t fly there. Perhaps she had forgotten their Star Alliance membership?

  26. Agree KF agent is very competent. I once tried to book BNE-SIN-NRT-IAD with mixed SQJ/SQF/NHF. Initially agent said he couldn’t see the availability. So I HU’d and ready for ACA. Suddenly my phone rang and it was the same agent. He said he looked into individual segments and those awards were available individually but not when search directly BNE-IAD. He pieced those together in one award for 125K KF! How great is that? I’ve never had an agent that would still look up awards for you after you hang up.

    As for LM. I agree their agents are useless but that’s cuz they have been given little power. They can’t book the flights for you even if they wanted to. Whatever you see online is whatever they can book. It’s not really their fault. There are ways around with LM that you can book the most bizzare routing and they don’t seem to care. LM is the new USDM for me.

  27. Very sound advice. Speaking as someone with a long history in (non aviation) support provision at the level where it won’t get escalated higher (cos you don’t get blue-chip CEOs on the phone) attitude and gratitude gets you a long way.

    Acting entitled and demanding will most likely get noted in a coded way, being abusive with notes in great detail to cover the agent’s back. Plus, you’re very likely being recorded.

  28. What really bugs me is that AS will charge you the phone call fees for booking CX or Qantas even though their web sites either cannot book (CX) or are too buggy to ticket (Qantas) flights.

    Has anyone had any occasion where the AS agents will waive the fee for booking something that cannot be booked any other way?

    Speaking of Qantas – has anyone seen Qantas J seats recently (to anywhere)?

  29. James very well written! This past week had a rather frustrating call with Delta, simply thanked the rep and it was HUCA time. Then called again.

    By the way … there can be very long wait times to speak to an agent. I was told “rather than wait on hold, we can call you back when it’s your turn in two hours.” I did in fact receive a callback two hours later.

    Calling earlier in the morning (7:30am-8am Eastern) seems to get really fast service with AA, even if you don’t have gold/platinum status!

  30. “Has anyone had any occasion where the AS agents will waive the fee for booking something that cannot be booked any other way?”

    Yes, and also got an AA agent last week to waive the fee for a complicated itinerary using Qantas that could not be booked online (it would be possible as two separate tickets, waste of miles).

    “Speaking of Qantas – has anyone seen Qantas J seats recently (to anywhere)?”
    Yep, SYD-JNB. Not sure you want to use the miles there 😀

  31. @ Michael – wow that KF agent sounds incredible!

    I’ll be writing about calling LifeMiles in a separate post because it is truly a bizarre experience. As much as I wish LifeMiles was the new USDM the agents have very little discretion to book unusual routings in my experience and half the time they can’t even hear you/understand you/speak English.

  32. RIP US Air? You’re lucky you never stepped foot on one of their aircraft! Absolute rubbish!

  33. I was a VERY senior agent at a major international airline and what you have said is 100% true. I was US based, and worked off hours, and yes, I remember when the same caller would reach me two minutes later. And YES, we DID note your requests in your profile and YES, we did note that you were requesting something “not appropriate”. I dont mean YOU, specifically or personally. ALWAYS be nice, I was more than pleased to move heaven and earth for my polite, patient and knowledgeable “premiums” who actually earned the miles. And I agree with Christopher regarding USAir…a merger or two really awful airlines.

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