I assisted a client in procuring two award tickets from Sydney to New York earlier this week and thought I'd give you a run-down of how booking though Aeroplan (Air Canada's frequent flyer program) compared to my numerous telephone calls to book award travel on United.
Aeroplan has two call centers, one in Montreal and one in Vancouver. Offices are only open from 6am to midnight.
After spending a great deal of time using ExpertFlyer and the ANA tool to find award space departing during the peak Thanksgiving travel week and returning during the peak Christmas travel season, I gave Aeroplan a buzz.
Call One - 1hr, 44min
After inputing an account number and password, I was placed on hold for about eight minutes. A very friendly lady with a thick French accent eventually answered the phone and verified that I was an authorized user on the account.
She asked me where I wanted to travel to and I explained that I was working on two different tickets and gave her the dates of travel for the first ticket.
I explained to her that I had already checked for seat availability before calling and asked if she would like me to read off the flights I wished to book. She said yes.
I provided her the city pairs and flight numbers, one by one, and she was able to assemble my itinerary without any hassle. She put me on hold to calculate the taxes, then came back on about five minutes later and stated that her computer "had been acting up today" and that the taxes were not computing automatically.
She clicked on the tax computation button a few more times before finally giving up and telling me that she was going to contact a supervisor. She put me on hold again and came back eight minutes later to tell me that she was still on hold for a supervisor. After another few minutes on hold, she got back on the line and said she was still waiting.
I suggested that we start on the second ticket, to which she agreed. I again gave her the routing and flight numbers I wanted, and she dutifully confirmed that each flight was available. She stopped me midway through my recitation to check if her supervisor was back on the other line, placing me again on hold.
Moments later, she came back and said that her supervisor had also tried to price the taxes and could not, so the ticket would have to be sent to the rate desk to calculate.
She put me on hold again, but was back shortly and we continued to work on the second award. All the flights I found were available, but she told me that both the outbound and return exceeded the MPM. Having found flights from Sydney to North America via Asia, I knew I was more than 5% over the MPM but told her that the routings were published routings and therefore could exceed the MPM. She put me on hold for a few minutes and came back and vetoed my assertion, saying the routing would not work.
Normally in situations like this I would just thank the agent and hang up, but I was still waiting for the first itinerary to be priced so I accepted the agent's friendly and proactive request to search for alternative routings. I searched concurrently too, just for the heck of it, and did manage to find a nifty routing through the Cook Islands, but rejected it because it would have required two nights in RAR.
After exhausting our search options, the taxes still had not been calculated and I was getting impatient. Ten more minutes passed and finally the agent got the tax amount. It was high, though expected, because Air Canada charges a hefty fuel surcharge when use Aeroplan miles to book a flight on Air Canada. In this case, I had no other choice, but it added about $200 to the final price.
Ticketing complete, I thanked the woman profusely and signed off...almost two hours had passed.
Call Two and Three - Line Busy
It was now 11:30p ET, a half hour before closing, but I thought there was plenty of time to find another agent to book the second award. I still believed the routing was published--in fact, I had ExpertFlyer to prove it!
On my next two calls, however, I encountered the busy signal after inputting the account information and password. Weird...
Call Four - 15 Minutes
I finally got through again and knew immediately it wasn't going to be a productive call. The tone of the agent's voice was one of indifference, bordering on exasperation.
Before I could even provide details about the ticket I was looking for, he cut me off and stated, "You know sir, we close in ten minutes. I'm not going to be able to book anything tonight."
Wow. I was so offput by that statement. It was only 11:48p, still 12 minutes before closing, and he was already rearing to get out of the office.
I know Gray shared a similar experience when he booked an Aeroplan award (agent walking off in the middle of a booking to go on a break) and I just have to ask what lies behind this mindset and is widespread? Is it strict workplace labor rules? Strong union protection? I don't know what it was, but if I ran a business and a customer came in before closing time, I would not throw him out just so I could clock out the second my shift officially ended.
Rant aside, he was able to find the routing I wanted and verified that the routing was a published routing. It was eight minutes till closing, so I asked him if he could ticket the reservation. He refused. I thanked him and hung up.
Call Five - 18 Minutes
Availability shifts too rapidly in Starnet award inventory to gamble, so I called again bright and early the next morning.
I was quickly connected to a woman in Montreal. After explaining what had transpired on my previous call (specifically that the agent had already determined the routing was allowable), I provided the flight numbers and she quickly assembled the itinerary.
She put me on hold for five minutes to compute the taxes and came back with a quote. I provided my credit card number and she completed the reservation.
This is the way a telephone award booking should be! Courteous. Simple. Polite. Quick.
My job was done.
Aeroplan is no worse than United when it comes to booking an award. Sadly, if my experience this week is any indicator, they're not any better either. It's always best to have done your research before calling, but like any airline, be prepared to hang up and call again if you're not getting the answer you want or dealing with an employee who doesn't want to deal with you.