As we have shared frequently on this blog, a major part of our travel is done using airline miles, enabling us to fly for free (with a small tax/administrative fee of typically $5-50 depending on domestic/international and airport fees).
But what happens when your air travel goes wrong?
It’s a simple fact of life – if you fly frequently enough, you will encounter problems, ranging from slightly delayed flights to entire cancellations, missed flights and rerouting.
As inconvenient, frustrating, exhausting and sometimes downright maddening as these problems are, you should at least get something for your troubles. When you encounter delays and missed flights when traveling, it is definitely worth taking a few minutes to complain to the airline about it. When done properly, you can get some good benefits in return – usually airline mileage points deposited to your account – that can enable you to travel for free again in the future. At least that helps when you’ve had a big hiccup in your flights!
To give you a few recent personal examples, just last month I was flying American Airlines from Austin/DFW/Nashville. My flight from Austin was just about half an hour late – but that was enough to make me miss my connecting flight from Dallas to Nashville. It wasn’t too big of a deal for me, because they had another flight two hours later and put me on that one. But, while I was sitting in DFW airport waiting, I went to the AA website and posted a complaint about my delayed/missed flights. By the time I landed in Nashville, I had a response from AA apologizing, and depositing 12,500 miles in my account. That’s enough for one free one-way domestic ticket! Well worth about 3 minutes of my time.
Just a few weeks ago, my daughter and I were flying on separate flights to meet in Salt Lake City, for a connecting flight together on to San Diego. My daughter’s plane was several hours late coming into SLC, causing her to miss the connecting flight and requiring an overnight stay in SLC. We flew out together the next morning, instead. I wrote to Delta and, after three messages, succeeded in getting 9,500 miles for the trouble. Personally, I think an overnight stay is worth a lot more than that, but Delta is notoriously the most difficult airline to work with, and redeem miles on (in my opinion). We were already using miles for our San Diego tickets anyway, so in reality we were on free flights and then got another 9,500 points.
This past January, I took a great trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and then flying on to El Salvador. I used a three-way flight booking on United for this trip, using 35,000 United miles. These miles were miles that I was awarded last year, when Keith and I were flying to Kenya and had a hugely delayed flight that caused a rerouting and us to arrive in Nairobi a day late. That was pretty much a nightmare of an international flight screw-up; but we complained pretty heartily, and each received 35,000 United miles in recompense. This covered my travel this year to Mexico and El Salvador. Sweet!
So in my opinion, the best way to make lemonade from lemons when you have a flight problem is to complain and get something out of it – and well worth doing so. Here are a few tips I have for getting the best results:
- First step is to go to your airlines’ Customer Service page and make a complaint online. Don’t just rant and rave – be precise and simple when describing the problem, and definitely specify how the delay or problem affected you. Write with an “assumptive” tone that you expect the airline to help you and to make things right by compensating you appropriately. This step alone, which only takes a few minutes, can often end in a nice result like it did for my Nashville flight.
- If you don’t get a satisfactory response from that step, it’s time to go to the next step. Keep in mind that the customer service departments are pretty automated, and it seems that each airline has the standard response to such complaints. Some, like American, compensate the customer right off the bat. Others, like my Delta experience, respond with a “We’re very sorry for the problem,” yet fail to offer anything the first time around with your customer service department complaint.
If you don’t get a good response that way, you need to find a better contact and real people to send your complaint to. Try googling “complaint contacts for XYZ airline” to see if you can find actual contacts and email addresses to send to. Sites such as Christopher Elliott’s blog are great resources, too. By doing that google search on Delta, I came up with this webpage that gave me the firstname.lastname@example.org email (which is who eventually gave me the 9,500 miles). It also gave me this page, which has an entire list of real people’s Delta email addresses, including the CEO. I then sent my complaint to all of these emails, and Kana responded with my 9,500 miles. (Tip: When you send your first complaint in the step above, copy your text and save it before you send it. That way, if you have to send it again or proceed further, you’ll have it saved).
This is also what we did on our United flight problems to Kenya last year; ultimately, the public relations department head personally called us on the phone, apologized for our experience, and gave us each the 35,000 miles. Keith’s blog post about that experience outlines some great detailed suggestions on how to complain properly for the best results.