Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
It was a Sunday in July, I remember because the church bells were ringing. A warm front had settled over the city, and everyone just seemed to be a little bit on edge because of it. I had a friend, Paul, who needed to to get out of town, and quick. His flight, from LAX to Houston for a few days and then Houston to Buffalo was pricing out over $1000.
He called me up, and we talked about any miles he might have that could be used. “Well I’ve been collecting US Airways miles for 10 years or so, I might have 300,000—but I can’t ever seem to use them.” I hear this all the time—I have all these miles, why are they so hard to use? In a city of 4 million I often wonder how many miles go unused like this. Today I was going to make a difference, today I was going to stop a crime.
…Most award bookings go as planned. A few of ’em get lost on the way. When they do, it makes trouble for me. My Name is Sam—I’m a Milenomic.
Like any good detective, I did some searches on United.com, which is the best site to find low level US Airways awards. Finding flight numbers I called my friend back and gave him the information. As we hung up I let him know to book the flights as a mult-city award ticket. The trip was not bookable online, so he had to call in to ticket. I told him to insist on the trip pricing out at 25,000 miles plus fees, if they tell him otherwise hang up, call back.
About an hour later, frustrated and frantic, he called me and said there had been an attempted robbery. US Airways agents twice priced the trip at 50,000 miles. After I calmed him down, I assured him they were wrong. Then, my gumshoe instincts kicked in, and I decided to set up a sting operation. I asked him to call again with me on the phone and let me listen to what he said. The following was the conversation:
- Paul: “Hi I’d like to book a trip.”
- Perp: “Okay where would you like to go?”
- Paul: “I want to go from LA Houston on flight XYZ on July 15th and then I want to go from Houston to Charlotte on flight YXZ on July 17th, and then Charlotte to Buffalo on flight ZYX.”
I knew what was coming next from listening in on the conversation.
- Perp: “That trip will be 50,000 miles.”
Paul hung up and called me back, at this point he was fine with paying the 50,000 miles. “I’ll pay them whatever they want, Sam I really need this flight.”
“I’m not going to let that happen kid. No one rips off my friends, not on my watch.”
I let him in on a secret, the mistake that was causing the ticket to price higher: he used the words “and then.” We called back again, this time me pretending to be Paul. My discussion went as follows:
- Me:“Hi I’d like to book a multi-city trip, but wasn’t able to do so on the website.”
- Perp:“Sure where would you like to go?”
- Me:“I’d like to go from LAX-BUF but I have some specific dates and flights.”
- Perp:“Ok I’m ready when you are.”
- Me:“LAX-IAH, July 15, followed by IAH-BUF connecting in CLT on July 17.”
- Perp:“Ok, I’ve got you Los Angeles to Houston on July 15th, with a stop for 3 days, followed by Houston to Buffalo with a connection in Charlotte on July 17th, is that right?”
- Me:“Yes, that’s right.”
- Perp: “That will be 25,000 Miles and $way too much in fees”
We paid the fees, thanked the agent and hung up. Paul called me back faster than a perp fleeing from the badge. “So they would have just ripped me off for 25,000 more miles?” I tried to explain they weren’t ripping him off—he was asking for two one way trips. US Airways doesn’t allow one way travel, so what was happening was the agents were inputting LAX-IAH pricing as one trip, 25,000, and IAH-BUF a second trip, 25,000 miles.
The two things I did differently were to say the overall flight–LAX-BUF, and the word “Multi-city” followed by the flight dates and numbers. He asked me how in the world he was supposed to know that—and I was stuck. He was right. The agent should have priced it correctly, “and then” or no “and then.” I could imagine this sort of thing happens a lot, people spend so much time earning the miles they neglect the importance of how best to spend them. Hopefully this taught him a lesson. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to get involved again. In my line of work trouble like this comes and goes.
The above story was included here for two reasons–one, to let you know US Airways miles can be used to book this type of multi-city trip for the price of one award. The larger reason was to let you know how important it is that you know the terms, what to say and what not to say when booking an award. The first thing you say should be the place you want to leave from, and the destination. LAX-BUF, not LAX-IAH like Paul did. Sometimes all the right words just won’t cut it… and you’ll need to just stop, make up an excuse, and hang up.
US Airways has some crazy rules, and agents who are geographically challenged. The majority of the time you can get lucky, and get an agent to ticket a flight at the right price. To do so you’ll need to hang up and call back until you get the right agent.
A Mile Saved is a Mile Earned.
The bigger issue is educating yourself before you go out and try to redeem for flights. Leaving miles on the table because you forgot to add a free one way at the end of an international trip (US, UA, DL, and AA all have some form of this), or allowing a trip to price higher than low level due to an agent’s error, either way you’re wasting miles. A Mile has a very real cost, in the above example 25,000 US airways miles could have been like throwing away $375 or more.
It is easy to forget that miles=$$$. Using a few more here, or a few more there is no big deal. Paul was fine with US Airways taking 25,000 more than they should have because he was over a barrel. Luckily I was able to help him and save those 25,000 miles.
The thing to remember is that our Miles are precious. They can unlock parts of the world we’ve dreamed to go to. Don’t we owe it to them to get the most value out of them as possible?
Remember, A Mile is a Terrible Thing to Waste.
– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.