Why I Love US Airways Reservations Agents

Award from US to Kuala Lumpur and back, business class. Set up the reservation, agent gets ready to price. And contra Continental where the computers do everything, US Airways agents do a whole lot more fill in the blanks.

Very helpful agent asks me about Kuala Lumpur, “that’s in North Asia, right?”

Of course, business class to North Asia is 90,000 miles and to South Asia is 120,000 miles.

Sadly, I am an honest man. Or at least I’m willing to own up to my geography.

Still, I have to wonder (and I often wonder) whether US Airways made a really big mistake when they tried to save money by switching off of Sabre to SHARES.

I flew them the weekend of the systems cutover, certainly I knew better but I had a great desire to be a part of the experience. And an experience it was — online check-in was dead, the kiosks were dead, and there was a multi-hours long line for human check-in because the agents simply weren’t familiar with the system yet and were overwhelmed with everyone who would normally self-checkin needing live assistance (and wihtout concommitant ramp up in airline personnel to help).

Even the first class check-in line was 45 minutes long. I tipped the skycaps $5 to check me in, even though I had no luggage. They knew how to issue boarding passes!

From that day forward – and early on they weren’t even able to sell paid tickets on partners – they must have lost money as a result of the decision.

Now, I actually like working with US Airways agents. They’re slow doing everything manually but I don’t remember the last time I spoke to an overseas call center (actually I do, pretty sure it was November). And though the agents don’t know much about geography or world cities and have to figure out things manually or wait on interminable holds when they have to involve their rate desk, I much prefer to deal with empowered humans — and with humans you can always call back and try again rather than just getting the same answer from a human.

With Continental if the computer says something, it’s true. Even when it’s wrong.

So long live US Airways, live agents, and outdated technology.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I agree with this wholeheartedly. While I ended up spending about 4 hours on the phone with a US agent, she was so charismatic and chatty and personable that I hadn’t even realized that it had been 4 hours. Oh yeah, and she allowed me two stopovers, one of which wasn’t in a *A hub

  2. They told me that EZE was in Europe… but the agent fixed it when I called back to ticket the reservation.

  3. You probably have gotten non-US agents – they use many agents in Manila, and it seems I always get them when I call.

  4. booked a trip to nz with a stopover in bkk in 1st. The agent quoted me 140k miles per ticket, despite my insistence it should be 160 because of the bkk stopover. Eventually i relented when the guy said “wow I’ve never been irritated by a customer who wanted me to charge him more miles.” Bless em…

  5. I was surprised when I saw you said KUL was South Asia. I would have agreed with the US agent that KUL was North Asia, because UA splits their zones (for consolidator fares, not mileage redemption) into North Pacific and South Pacific. Anything north of Australia falls into NPAC. (I checked and UA has mileage redemption split into: North Asia, South Asia, and Australia/NZ.) But I looked and US splits NPAC/SPAC into three categories: North Asia, South/Central Asia, and South Pacific. Interesting and educational.

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