It is not often that I make a rant about a travel experience since many of the things that happen in the realm of travel are mostly one-offs or due to an agent/employee that really is not a good representative of a company.
However, because this particular situation went through many people with Ethiopian Airlines and I still came away with a really bad experience, I thought it was something I would see if it was just me or if others have experienced it as well.
Is Ethiopian Airlines’ Group Reservations Really THIS Bad?
I often help many people, including groups, to get the best deals possible for airfare. This is mostly people or organizations I am closely related/involved with since I just like to be able to find the best deal and it always helps me to find out some new and interesting places to look along the way (as far as destinations).
So, I have booked using group reservation departments at airlines quite a lot – this isn’t my first time. I am used to how the process goes and kind of really enjoy it since the terms are pretty flexible (you don’t need to provide actual names until something like 60-45 days before departure, deposit is refundable if you cancel, full payment not needed until the month or two before travel).
If you are traveling with over 9 people on the same itinerary, group sales is definitely something to consider (also, they can normally help out with extra baggage, seat selection, and even often offering discounts). Normally, the process is great.
My Experience Booking a Group Reservation with Ethiopian Airlines
This was my first time booking a group with Ethiopian. They had the best itinerary available for the group so I started the process. Ethiopian has an easy to access group sales webpage and even specifies on there that you can get a 10% discount.
This group reservation had started at being over a $20,000 reservation so the 10% discount would certainly be nice (it would be off the fare, not the taxes and fees – still a nice chunk).
I e-mailed them and after a couple of days, began to see my e-mail get bounced around (my e-mail address was CCed in) to different departments until it arrived at the Group Sales office of the departing airport. After about a week, I was contacted by a sales agent and we got the process rolling.
The Agent Does Not Know About the Discount?
The first price quote I got was actually a little higher than I was able to find from them for the 9 person limit (understandable since there were likely not that many tickets available at the price) but I did ask about the 10% discount since that wasn’t broken into the price quote. It was $15 higher than what I was able to find.
When I mentioned the 10% discount and the price available on their own website, he came back saying that the website price was indeed $15 less and they could do a discount – of about 4%. I had to actually mention a discount to even get him to offer a part of what their website said was offered in the first place!
I e-mailed back again, asking why the discrepancy on the discount when their website specified 10%. If there was some promo fare involved, I was fine with that, I just wanted to know where we stood. He wrote back and had no idea what I was talking about – he did not even know about it! I actually had to send him their own website to show him.
His response to that was no response. Finally, just because I wanted to move ahead with it, I told him we could go ahead at the current rate. He then e-mailed back and said he would put in for the space.
Group Timeline Given
Now that we had a reservation, the agent explained to me the timeline for providing names, giving the deposit, and paying the full price. All of it was very good. His last e-mail said “we will keep in touch.”
Now, the Problems with Ethiopian Airlines Group Sales Begin
About a month before the deposit deadline, I asked him if we could add a couple of people. No response. I later asked if I could pay the deposit now (the person handling payment wanted to meet a minimum spend for a card). No response.
At this point, I started copying in the people his original e-mail had copied in as I kept asking if we could move ahead. I even said we were ready to pay the whole thing – a good month ahead of schedule. No response.
I started over from the beginning and e-mailed the main group reservations desk with our reservation number and asked for help. No response. I called their agents and asked for help. Their response – you need to talk to group. I called group and had to leave a message – No response. I called the agent who had been dealing with me and had to leave him a message. No response.
Now, we are at the deadline for paying the deposit. My group was getting antsy as they wanted to make sure their tickets were set. I started e-mailing everyone that had been in the original chain and – no response.
In all, I e-mailed the original agent 10 times after the last response to him and included various people and the group e-mails in along the way. I even found the e-mail address for their VP of Customer Service and copied him in and then e-mailed him directly. No response from anyone.
I contacted the Twitter team to ask for help – they apologized but said it had to go through Group Sales. Apparently, Group Sales fell off the face of the earth because I could not get a single response from any of them.
Going the Altnerate Route
Without getting any contact at all from Ethiopian Airlines, I ended up having to book the reservation on my own, in sets because of the 9 person limit. At this point, the group just wanted it done so it was better to just handle it this way, especially with the departure date creeping up.
In the end, the group had to pay a total of $400 more than they would have originally and I was left with a very sour taste for Ethiopian Airlines. I just cannot believe that an entire department can be so customer-unfriendly to ignore a $20,000+ contract (or really any amount).
I have to say – after dealing with airlines and groups sales departments for years, I am genuinely disappointed in what a bad experience this was with Ethiopian Airlines. I sincerely hope that this is a one-off type situation but since I was able to contact many people who had at one time been in the loop, I wonder if this is more business-as-usual.
Have you ever dealt with Ethiopian Airlines’ Group Sales teams? What is your experience with Ethiopian Airlines as a whole?