The Difference Between United’s International Call Centers

Cranky Flier learns the importance of United’s call center geography.

I’ve had countless problematic interactions with some Indian agent conveniently named “Mark” or “Mr Smith” or anything else generically American in the past, and I’ve rarely left the call feeling satisfied. In fact, I consider it a victory if I find an agent that I can actually understand, so when I had to call the reservations line this week, I braced for the worst.

The agent that answered the phone had a slight accent and tone that led me to believe he was Filipino. First victory: I could understand him. I told him my situation, and he surprisingly didn’t have to ask for clarification. He pulled up my reservation, said that the $25 phone reservations fee didn’t apply, and quickly took care of it for me. Then he took my address and said the remaining $32 of the credit would just be sent to me in the mail for future use.

(Emphasis above mine.)

What Cranky has stumbled onto is that there is a difference between international call centers. Usually it’s a matter of training and whether the agents in intenrational call centers have received enough of an investment to learn what they’re supposed to do. With United, it’s really simple in general to know whether you’ll have a generally good or generally bad experience with your outsourced phone call. It’s summed up simply as: India bad, Manila Good.

Now, calls abroad usually take longer. But US agents aren’t a panacea, I frequently get cranky agents out of Chicago (Honolulu has been good to me). If I’m ever trying to push the envelope I like Manila because they’re less likely to document my reservation with something unpleasant than are US agents, if only because they are less confident in themselves. US agents tend to be certain of the rules, even when they’re wrong. Manila agents will frequently have to ‘check their resources’ to ask permission or clarification on things, but will usually try to be helpful. And those hold times can be interminable. But in the end you’ll get what you need more often than not. And sometimes even when you aren’t quite supposed to. Indian call center agents on the other hand are less than unhelpful. Hang up and try again.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yes, the Pilipino call center employees are great. HSBC also runs a few call centers in the Philippines, which I have never had an issue with also. It is, however, unfortunate that these folks aren’t paid wages that aren’t equal to their USA counterparts. Alas, it’s all economics.

    Finally, I’ve still found that UA’s best call center folks are the ones on the international travel desk. They’re particularly helpful when I’m attempting to book an award ticket–it has gotten much harder, however.

  2. Yes, but those economics will come to an end. And so will Gary’s flying when he doesn’t have a job anymore.

  3. How do you increase the odds of getting the Filipino center? My expertise on Filipino accents is limited, so I might not know immediately.

    The UA India center is god-awful. I’m amazed they’ve stuck with it.

    I have sometimes pressed the “int’l” button even when I have a domestic question to try to get a US agent. It seems like int’l reservations are usually (always?) handled by US agents. These folks have generally been willing to answer my questions.

  4. I have to agree that India based call centers are just plain awful. Not only for United Airlines, but for all airlines (or any other company for that matter). Those people just simply don’t care, they are there to answer the call and collect a paycheck. They are probably very happy when you get frustrated with them and hang up so they don’t have to do anything.
    Every time I have a problem with India based call center, I write an email to customer service (got knows who reads those though… maybe the same guys! LOL). I think if we all do it, maybe it will eventually change and the call centers will be moved back to the US. There are plenty of people looking for jobs here now.

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