The Best Piece of Advice in Travel: Hang Up, Call Back

Many of y’all know this, but it’s helpful to be reminded occasionally.

Never argue with an agent. Never tell them how much more you know about ticketing than they do. Always thank them for being so helpful. Even when they’re not.

Instead, when you discover you’re working with an agent who doesn’t know what they’re doing, just hang up politely and call back. And I do mean hang up politely, or at least as politely as you can. Perhaps you have another call, or someone is in your doorway, thnak them for their time but emphasize that you have to go and will need to call back.

It’s always better to try again with the next agent than it is to try to educate an agent. Now, occasionally there are genuinely helpful agents who don’t know some of the intricacies of their partners. And sure you’d be doing apublic service by educating them. But most of the time showing how much more you know than they do isn’t taken well at all, it’s threatening. After all, this is their job, maybe they’re veterans at it, and the customer isn’t supposed to know more than they do.

And the last thing you want is to anger an agent who has your reservation open, they might write something nasty in it, “CUSTOMER ADVISED THEY MAY NOT ______.” or “CUSTOMER ADVISED OF $$$$ FEE TO CHANGE _____.”

Once so notated it’s often harder to get the next agent to do what you want, even if it’s within the rules for them to do so. So always remain pleasant.

But you don’t like the answer you get the first time, espeially when you think that answer is incorrect? Hang up, call back. Call center roullette.

I do this quite frequently, this morning with US Airways which is probably the airline with the greatest variance in answers you’ll get across agents at the same airline, discussing the same question.

There’s an award ticket booked in first class with one short domestic segment in coach. Today business on the domestic segment opened up. Rang up US Airways.

Call 1: “I’m sorry, with partner awards we cannot change that, we have to cancel and redeposit the miles and start over.”

Call 2: “We can make the change, but the change fee is $150.”

Call 3: “I’m sorry, with partner awards we cannot change that, we have to cancel and redeposit the miles and start over.”

Call 4: “Sure, no problem. That’s great news! I’m going to need to hold for the rate desk to do it, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”


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. Terrible that took 4 calls. It’s pretty annoying, but certainly reality today. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Gary, do you know if US Airways will let you stopover in HKG, since there is no hub there from any *Alliance airline departing from the USA.

    I’m trying to do ORD-HKG(stop)-BKK(destination)-ORD.

    Does US Airways enforce the Hub rule where you have to arriving on the carrier who has a hub there? If i call back several times would i be likely to get a HKG stopover?

  3. I totally agree.
    Also, sometimes it helps to give them a slight nudge, such as saying “…but I spoke to an agent yesterday and she said it can be done if I call… can you please ask your supervisor?” This has worked for me in the past too.

  4. After call #2, I would have given up. This seems like such a corner case; were you aware of a rule stating that you should not be charged? If so, how did you uncover this arcana?

  5. Gary,

    Is the agent in call #2 technically correct? This would be useful to know for future bookings, as I had always assumed that you would need to pay a change fee to US even for a change such as the one you describe.

  6. @frankiwa – I have definitely done it, if an agent doesn’t want to allow it, odds on the next one will (and by the way I believe that Air New Zealand considers Hong Kong a hub, which is indeed strange).

  7. You mentioned on UPGRD podcast #67 that you hate to use the phone. However, you must have to make tons of calls in conjunction with your award booking business!

  8. @Gene I do not think anyone actually knows whether or not it’s technically correct. I’ve been told by some agents that upgrading class of service is permitted with no fee. Others have said a fee is involved. And the US Airways member guide is far from a model of clarity. I just know that many agents believe it can be done without a fee, and I like those agents better.

  9. You’ll get better service when you’re polite, but I choose to think of it as if I were on the other end of the phone…how would I want to be treated and would I be more likely to go out of my way if someone were treating me nicely vs badly?

  10. Extremely accurate, unfortunately. I had a much more complex routing and was able to get my ticket changed to the higher class of service the rest of the booking was in, even though this was *after* departure.

    Also, yes, I am one of those who scored a North America to Europe via Asia ticket with a highly illegal routing since those US Airways agents are ill-versed in geography: LAX-NRT-SIN-PVG(stop)-BKK-ZRH-LHR (destination) (SQ11 is considered 1 flight)

    A few days before my return from LHR to LAX, even though no changes are supposed to be made to the reservation after the first sector has been flown, I got them to make it from LHR-EWR-PHL-LAX to LHR-ZRH-LAX on Swiss for no fee at all after having been refused several times…

  11. I endorse the suggestion entirely.

    Last year had a SkyMiles trip to San Diego that had FOUR schedule changes with Delta to get a cruise. The last one had us changing planes on the date of the cruise. Too risky!

    So I called Delta and after three calls was able to switch to a non-stop on the evening before at no cost. Switching to a flight on another day at no cost was virtually unheard of. But, an accommodating agent did just that for us.

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