One of the things I have enjoyed about having top-tier elite status with airlines has been the access to telephone numbers and agents where the wait time was less and the expertise was (often) better. A recent experience with United made me miss that quite a bit and showed again how the “hang up and call back” routine can work very well and save a lot of money.
Hang Up and Call Back With United Saved Hundreds Of Dollars
Here was the situation – we had some friends visiting and they decided to change their award tickets so they could stay longer. They knew they were going to have to pay the $100 fee per ticket (because it was within 21 days and they were changing one of the cities) but since the departure airport had fewer taxes, the fee would be a bit less as a result. I had gone online to change one (and errored out) but saw what the total additional cost would be and it was something they were ok with.
The twist was that one of their tickets had a lap infant. United Airlines is the worst when it comes to getting lap infants ticketed properly on partner airlines. This is something we have dealt with a few times across the span of a few years and they never get it right for us. So, I knew that it would be a bit difficult.
They were traveling in business class on Turkish Airlines so that part was going to be in their favor. Turkish Airlines has lower taxes/fees than Lufthansa and they also have economy and business fares much cheaper for one ways than most European carriers. Since a lap infant’s ticket is based on the taxes and 10% of the adult fare, that makes a huge difference.
The first time we called, it was answered after being on hold for 35 minutes. The agents on the other end got the details of the ticket and put us on hold while he spoke to the rate department. After another wait, he came back with the total cost – $100 to change the adult ticket (expected) and $800+ to change the infant ticket! He tried explaining that it was due to the business class ticket costing $8,000 but would not listen as I tried to point out that Turkish Airlines’ most expensive ticket for that route on that date was only $2,000 (in business class). I asked him to go back to the rate department and confirm and he came back with $800 again.
When I (nicely) tried to tell him again about the cost of the ticket, he said that if we were seeing it cheaper somewhere else, we should just go ahead and buy the ticket from Turkish if we thought we could find it better. Obviously, we were not trying to buy a ticket but just get some explaining on the ticket cost.
That ended call #1.
After a 20 minute wait, we were again connected with the same call center. After giving the details, she came back with a cost difference of only $130 for the infant ticket (which was in keeping with what they were originally charged and the current cost of the business class ticket). That part was acceptable.
Except she was telling me that there would not be any refund on the adult award ticket and, in fact, there would be an increase to the ticket in taxes and fees – $25 more. She went to go handle things with the rate department and came back to say that it would be $20 more than what she previously quoted!
The last time, she came back and said it was a mistake, but that the adult ticket would be $25 cheaper (like I originally had found) but that it would not be a refund. She said they could not issue it as a refund but instead would send a travel voucher for the amount (never had this happen before on changes like this).
But, at least we were set and we had “saved” $700 on what the first agent insisted was the cost for the infant ticket. Of course, they were not going to move the ticket at that price but simply hanging up and calling back allowed us to get the correct price and they were able to move the ticket.
When I tried changing the other adult ticket online, it errored out so we had to call again. This time, I reached a US call center and the lady on the other end was very helpful and knowledgable. She apologized that the previous agent said that a travel voucher would be issued and said it should have been refunded to the original form of payment (which is exactly what happened every other time I have done this). She was able to get on the phone with the rate department and switch this ticket in under 5 minutes – the best call yet!
It is okay to use the hang up and call back routine if you receive information that is incorrect and the agent will not budge. But, there are a few ways to handle this to get the most out of it.
The agents can/do leave notes in your record. If you are a jerk on the phone with them, they could put all of that in the record and you may not find a rep to help you after that.
Do Not Hang Up On Them
This should go without saying, but do not actually just hang up on them! Politely thank them for their help, tell them you are not making the change/purchase at this time, and then hang up.
Many times, you can identify an ill-informed rep right away. Try to do that quickly so you do not waste too much time with them or get angry when they continue to tell you completely incorrect information.
Go In Informed
If you can, always try to find out as much as you can online before you call. Much of that can be done on the company’s website. Changing a ticket? Find out what you should be paying before you call. This way, you know if you are being asked to pay something that is not right.
Take A Breath
It can be frustrating when you know more about the rules than the company representative! I mean, really frustrating! Since I blog about travel a lot and do a lot of things with travel, I have learned a lot of the rules of the many programs and can tell quickly if it is truth or error when speaking with a rep. I always want to “educate” the rep but sometimes that does not work well. The first two reps in this case were reading scripts. Trying to talk to someone who is doing that will not get you anywhere. Better off just taking a breath and not losing it!
Even in this technologically advanced day, we still have to call in for some things. Knowing when to hang up and call back can be a big help and save you a lot of money – as it did for us this time.
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