2011: Year of the Angry Traveler Part 2?

For my first post of 2011, I will reflect on 2010 which has become known as the year of the angry traveler. I was just reading an article from CNN which was discussing the travel industry disaster that was 2010 and aside from being funny, it was correct. From volcanic ash clouds, underwear bombers leading to ridiculous, invasive full body scanners and pat downs and passengers ripping each others ears off because of reclining seats; to passengers smacking one another because they wouldn’t turn their iphone off and a crazy jet blue flight attendant; 2010 was a brutal year for traveling. Increased prices, baggage fees, carry on fees and just general apathy from airlines caused much heartache. I won’t even get into the snow storm disaster that screwed everyone up last week for Christmas. So as 2011 gets started I am planning a quick trip to South America next week and am already annoyed at American Airlines because of fees. Shocker I know…ahhh the joys of travel!

I used to only fly American Airlines and their One World partners but after a series of awful customer service experiences I moved my business to United and the Star Alliance partners. For me it made sense because with the United and Continental merger, I live in New York and the biggest New York hub is Continental out of Newark. That aside, United isn’t that great either, no US carriers are, but I had to call American today to ask some questions about my potential flights to South America next week.

First, I wanted to use miles and there were, as always, complications to using miles when you want to actually use them. Finally I figured out something I could live with. However, only for a portion of the trip so I wanted to do a platinum challenge in order to regain my platinum status that I lost last year when I flew Star Alliance carriers only. They told me it would cost $200 just to do the challenge which means you need to fly 10,000 points (not miles) in 3 months. Very doable but why do I have to pay for it? I never had to before.
I knew they would charge because my friend Mike told me last week that he had to pay when he did it. For him it’s fine because he lives in the UK, travels Europe a lot and does it simply for lounge access in Heathrow (although he did get an upgrade back to London for which he was giddy as a schoolgirl). For me though, the places I want to go this year are better reached with Star carriers plus I want to retain my status with United so I don’t think it’s worth the $200 for me as that would sway me to use American more.

Plus there’s the always irritating issue of class of ticket that can kill a status chaser if you’re also trying to save money and get the best deal. I have had numerous arguments with airlines, usually American, about this issue. Who cares if you get a discounted fare ticket (which isn’t cheap anyway), you’re still flying the same stupid route and the same amount of miles, it’s enraging that they will only give you credit for half miles and in some cases, none at all!

Anyway, I won’t go into a rant about airline fees and lack of customer service but when I asked the lady on the phone if the flights I wanted would qualify for half or full points, she said she couldn’t answer that because I didn’t book it yet. I replied that I wanted to know if the class would give me the amount of miles I need to win the platinum challenge or not but she claimed she couldn’t tell me until I reserved it.
This was unacceptable and of course I had an argument with her and as usual, you cannot win with airlines and you get such attitude on the other end of the phone, usually ending with the phrase, “that’s our policy sir”! That’s the equivalent of your mother saying “because I’m your mother and I said so” when you couldn’t understand why you couldn’t do something as a kid. Shockingly that happened to me a lot!

So as a result I think I will just fly American down to La Paz because it’s the shortest and easiest routing and there are no Star Alliance partners going there anyway. But as usual I am frustrated by American Airlines and will continue to only use them if there are no better options, and in this case there are none.

Hopefully 2011 will get better for the airlines and travel industry in general but the truth is that with all these fees and nickel and diming that goes on, I don’t see how it can happen. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I don’t understand how many foreign, especially Asian carriers have such great customer service and how all US carriers are awful.

Check back with me soon as I will be posting from my trip.

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  1. Great pics, good post

  2. I have never done a platinum challenge but I agree that American Airlines sucks. I enjoy your site, looking forward to reading about your upcoming trip.

  3. Your pictures made me remember getting patdown at the Ft. Lauderdale airport last month. it was shocking invasive. keep in mind I didnt set off the metal detector but he saw my insulin pump in my pocket and “wanted a closer look”

  4. Those pictures are awesome!

  5. I thought you were starting in Santiago for JF Island? Or did that not work out?

    If you’re going to be in La Paz, you should take ‘The Worlds Most Dangerous Road’, the 38-mile road from La Paz to Coroico, with some areas taking a 2k foot drop-off and some 200+ cars fall off to their fate yearly. That’s a cool thing to have on your travel resume, and a fun day. This place looks good: Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking (http://www.gravitybolivia.com/).

  6. The worlds most dangerous road is the first thing I will be doing once I have acclimated to the altitude and that is the company I am using-my buddy used them last year. I will do the JF Islands at the end of the trip…nothing is set bc they do not call or email back; agents or airlines.

    Baumer thats hilarious btw!

  7. Wow.. didn’t know they started charging for the Plat challenge. I’m lifetime AA PLT so don’t have to worry about that but my wife will lose her status this year and was hoping on a challenge. It is a definitely a pain keeping up with which fares earn what points.
    Good luck on JF.. I’ve heard the flights don’t run reliably.

  8. Jordan, whats the miles number for lifetime platinum on AA? 1mm or 2mm?

  9. 1MM = lifetime gold, 2MM = lifetime plat. That’s miles from everything vs just flight miles.

  10. Gotcha, I’m at 967,000 on AA…I’ll 1,000,000 sooner or later

  11. giddy as a school girl doesn’t even come close to describing how you feel getting upgraded from cattle class to a bed in business class on a packed red eye during Christmas!

    It is annoying they charge now but was worth me paying for all the lounge access I use and also potential upgrades and don’t forget double miles. Also if you do it after I think June you get it until the following year, so I got mine for a year and a half. To be fair to American I don’t think any other airlines do this kind of challenge, would be great if Star alliance did.

    Re their responses to you and the platinum challenge that seems wrong as I asked the same questions before I did my last challenge and they were able to tell me atleast how many miles it gave me and I figured out the codes which go like this:
    Earn 1.5 points per mile when the purchased fare on your American Airlines ticket is booked in one of these booking codes: A F P D I J R B C Y
    Earn 1.0 point per mile for these AA booking codes: H K L M V W
    Earn .5 points per mile for these AA booking codes: G N Q S O (excludes tickets between North America and Latin America booked in O inventory, which are not eligible for mileage credit)

  12. Haha, it’s so simple I had no idea! No seriously, great info but JESUS there are 21 different classes of tickets?!

    For the double miles I agree thats worth it and especially for you. For me, I just hate the people that answer the phones for them as I consistently find them incredibly obnoxious and unhelpful…or maybe its just me!

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