In the Trenches: When Your Vendors Make Business Difficult
Our business exists solely because the airlines make air travel fairly complex. Because of that complexity, our hands-on style of doing business is usually very well-received. Sometimes, however, the airlines do things that make us look like the bad guys. This happened to us twice this week, which has me fuming — and there’s nothing I can do about it.
The first incident involved a major U.S.-based airline. We had booked a ticket for a small-business client awhile back, and the airline made a schedule change that would result in him arriving several hours later than originally planned. At first, the client agreed to the change, but he changed his mind a couple days later. We called a service representative for the airline, who said that was fine and advised us to process the refund. We could then book a different flight on another airline.
That's what we did. So, I was surprised to receive a bill from the airline saying that we had no right to process the refund — and we owed them almost $400. You’d think that this would be an easy matter to rectify, given that the airline’s agent instructed us to process the refund. Our conversation should have been documented; however, the airline refused to review the case. I contacted our sales rep at the airline to try to appeal, too, and she didn’t return calls or emails. We attempted other channels, too, and nobody would help. Now I’m stuck with this charge and left with a tough question: Do I eat this cost, or do I go back to the client? It puts me in a terrible position either way.
The second incident was even worse, at least from a customer-service perspective. A U.K.-based partner of the same airline has a policy that penalizes people who book through travel agents. Only the top agencies (we’re a part of one) can book tickets that allow clients to upgrade using miles, and these upgrades may only be done at the time of initial ticketing. Of course, if you book directly with the airline, you can upgrade anytime.
That policy is terribly unfriendly, but it is what it is. I booked a complex business-class ticket for a client with an upgrade to first class using miles. One segment wasn’t available for the upgrade, and I warned him that if we booked it, he would not be able to upgrade at a later date. He said to go ahead.
Fast forward to the week of travel. My client is in Australia asking me if he can upgrade. I reiterated airline’s draconian policy. He took it upon himself to call the airline directly in Australia, which told him sure, he could upgrade if the seats became available. What?! So, he asked us to call if seats opened up. Sure enough, they did, and we called. As expected, we were clearly told that no upgrades were permitted using miles, because this was an agency-booked ticket.
So what happened? I told the client, and he called the airline in Australia, which promptly upgraded him. Thanks to the airline’s inconsistent application of a terrible policy, I look like an incompetent agent in the eyes of my client.
Talk about an incredibly frustrating experience! It certainly makes me want to avoid booking with those airlines whenever possible.
Brett Snyder is President and Chief Airline Dork of Cranky Concierge air travel assistance. Snyder previously worked for several airlines, including America West and United, before leaving to create a travel search site for PriceGrabber.com. Snyder did his undergrad at George Washington and earned his MBA from Stanford.