I know nothing about travel hacking but I want to share a huge airline tip I stumbled upon that is not very well known. It might just come in handy one day.
If you’re a member of the American Airline (AA) AAdvantage program and make a reservation using your awards miles, you can make various changes to your trip itinerary without incurring any kind of change fee! This was a huge revelation to me, especially after I spent over two hours on the phone a few months ago lying, fake-crying, and negotiating to save my family $1,000 in airline fees. Let me explain.
My mother-in-law made a reservation for a group of five traveling to my niece’s graduation. A few weeks later, my in-laws visited Mr. Groovy and me and as we discussed their plans over dinner at a restaurant, my mother-in-law pulled up her airline reservation on her phone. That’s when she realized she made an error with the dates in the reservation. When the four of us returned to our home I elected to contact AA as her advocate. And that was when we learned the airline intended to charge her for five change fees at $200 each.
My mother-in-law is not a member of the AAdvantage program so I phoned AA’s general customer service number. AA kept me on hold for forty minutes and when I finally got through, I was cut off thirty minutes into my first conversation. By the time we finished this ordeal, I had communicated with three customer service representatives—two on the phone plus one supervisor who the second rep I spoke with contacted by email. They all acted like I wanted to steal their first-born child. All I needed was help due to an innocent mistake. We wanted the same exact flights, just a week later—even the cost of the flights remained the same.
I pulled out all the stops, making up stories that my in-laws were headed for a divorce over this snafu, that my father-in-law was not well in the head after being wounded in combat—you name it. At one point, a rep said “we’ll waive two change fees” and I replied “if you can do two, why can’t you do five?” I just wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, I succeeded, but the situation was very stressful. My mother-in-law and I needed a bottle of wine afterwards.
Now, a few months later, I learned that if the same exact sequence of events happened with the reservations, but my mother-in-law made her reservation using AAdvantage awards miles, we could have changed the flights with one short phone call. No issues. Crazy isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong. AA plays all kinds of games with the awards program too—a fact that Mr. Groovy and I quickly learned when we began planning a trip. We wanted to redeem our awards miles, which are under two separate accounts. Since you can’t book two awards flights at the same time, Mr. Groovy and I navigated through the same exact pages on AA’s website together but on two separate laptops. We went through each step of the booking process talking to each other from room to room.
We’re flying out of Charlotte, North Carolina into Spokane, Washington. We’re spending the bulk of our time at Glacier National Park and no flights go direct from here. But we don’t mind. We love driving out west and we plan to see Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Whitefish, Montana, and last, but not least—we’re dropping in on Ms. Montana. We may even stay in her pop-up camper! (And she doesn’t know this yet but she’s going to be picking up litter with Mr. Groovy. If she informs us Montana has no litter, we’ll bring some—North Carolina has plenty.)
We found one suitable itinerary with one stop—there’s nothing direct to Spokane, either. It was available using 25,000 awards points each. As we navigated through the website and arrived at the point to click through to confirm the reservation, my screen advanced to the next page—and Mr. Groovy received a message saying the flight was no longer available. We tried this with several flights in various incarnations. Each time, either one of us couldn’t advance at all, or the number of awards miles needed to redeem the flight bumped up to the next level. Finally, we gave up on a one-stop flight and elected to go with two stops. We had no problem with that.
Afterwards, I poked around travel forums with threads about using awards miles for multiple people traveling together. In these forums I learned about the no change fee policy for the AAdvantage program flights. Since this policy is not obviously stated on AA’s website, I thought I’d verify with the AAdvantage team. I planned on calling AAdvantage customer service anyway to obtain a record locator for Alaska Air (AS). This was because our itinerary included a few legs on AS and I needed their record locator to choose seating assignments. The only way to get it is by phoning AA—yet another fact not made abundantly clear.
This time when I called AA, I used the customer service number for the AAdvantage program, not the general customer service number. I was put on hold for only two minutes and then connected to a very helpful representative. She quickly provided the record locator for our AS flights and I very nicely requested a moment of her time. She was eager to help. I explained how Mr. Groovy and I had difficulty advancing through the website for booking two flights simultaneously with one connection. And I asked whether we could change our flights for no fee if we find a better itinerary in the future using the same amount of awards points. And she said—yes, absolutely, if our route remains the same from Charlotte to Spokane.
Right now we’re sticking with the status quo. The awards flights with one stop require more miles than we have. But if I find a suitable one-stop flight in the future, rather than risking only one of us getting booked by using the online reservations, I’ll call the AAdvantage customer service number. I can provide both of our confirmation numbers and all the details for our flights. I’ll ask the rep to go through the scenarios for getting Mr. Groovy and me booked on the same flights before locking in any changes.
This is a call I won’t mind making. I won’t have to lie, cry, or negotiate to get through it. And I won’t have to drink half a bottle of wine to get over it.