Congratulations! You’ve earned enough frequent flyer miles to book a free trip to a dream destination. If you’re lucky, your program offers online booking. More often than not though, you’ll have to actually pick up the phone to make your award reservation.
That’s because not all airlines offer online booking of their partner flights, multi-city capabilities, open jaws and stopovers. Those are often the types of itineraries you’ll need to book over the phone.
Sometimes, the call is a breeze and your e-tickets will arrive in your email inbox in minutes. However, it’s not always that simple. Some programs spend more time training their customer service representatives while other airlines are decidedly lacking in that department. I’ve repeatedly talked with agents at one particular airline that didn’t even have a list of their company’s partner airlines. For that reason, you need to be prepared when you make that call. Here are our tips.
• Determine where you want to go and identify the airport codes you’ll travel from and to.
• Pick your ideal travel dates but also decide on a range of days in case you have to be flexible. You may need to leave a day earlier than you had hoped or stay an extra day at the end of the trip.
• Research, research, and then do some more research. Arm yourself with all of the flight numbers that will work for your trip. If you’re building a complicated itinerary, make a list of multiple flights that will get you where you want to go. If your first choice isn’t available, you’ll have a second or third possibility to check.
• If you don’t know where to begin to find which airlines fly to your destination, do a simple search at ITA Matrix or Kayak. I like Kayak searches because you can filter the results by airline alliance.
• Decide in advance what cabin you wish to fly. Do you only want first class seats or will business or economy do? If you’re traveling with a group, are you willing to split up? You may have to fly in different cabins on the same aircraft or you may have to take different flights and meet up at your destination.
• Once you’re ready, give the airline’s frequent flyer desk a call. I find it’s best to call early in the morning or late in the day. Noontime calls can experience long delay times.
• Be friendly and polite to the agent who’s assisting you. The job isn’t easy and the computer systems aren’t always the most modern. The more sincere you are, the harder the rep will try to find what you want.
• Tell them where your trip will begin and end (airport code to airport code). Then suggest that you feed the flight numbers that you want to the agent. I find its a lot easier to be very specific about the flights you want checked.
• It’s especially helpful if you already know that the flight is available. You can do that by checking airline sites that show partner availability. United.com is a good place to search for Star Alliance availability. For oneworld flights, try searching availability on the websites of American Airlines, British Airways, and Qantas. For SkyTeam awards, try searching the Flying Blue website from Air France and KLM.
• If the call isn’t going well and the agent isn’t able to find what you need, say “thank you for your time” and hang up. Then call back. This is especially important to do if you’re fairly certain the flights you want are open. You don’t want to waste time working with an agent who isn’t capable of getting the itinerary you want.
• Finally, if the flights you researched aren’t available, ask the agent for suggestions. It’s possible he or she can see an available routing that isn’t on your radar.