This week I decided to cash in 90,000 award miles for a last minute trip to my favorite diving spot in the world – Sipadan, Malaysia! With last minute prices even in economy between California and Tawau, Malaysia being over $1500, I decided it was time to cash in some of my AA miles before AA further devalues the program. I used the BA award search engine because JAL, AA, Malaysia Airlines, and Cathay Pacific award space is searchable. I searched segment by segment and put together the perfect award itinerary with overnight stays in both Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur on the outbound segments allowing me to visit friends and cities I had not seen in years and secured seats and Business class the entire way there. Outbound cost 55,000 miles.
4/17 AA 2798 depart 1035 SAN Arrive LAX 1130
4/17 CX885 Depart 1305 LAX Arrive HKG 4/18 1855
4/19 CX729 Depart 1600 HKG Arrive KUL 1945
4/20 MH2660 Depart 0725 KUL Arrive TWU 1015
The return flight options were not as abundant as I wanted to maximize my time in Sipadan and refused to leave this island before Saturday morning. Meaning a late night flight connecting Sunday back to California which allowed me just enough time to drop my vacation bag and grab my work bag (already packed) and head out for work training. I was able to book the return segment in economy the entire way for 35,000 miles
Red outbound, blue return
When I initially called in, the agent who helped me was delighted that I had already done the leg work and made his job much easier as I knew exactly what segments I wanted to fly. He quickly secured all segments and then quoted me 127,000 miles and $73.94 in taxes plus a $25 phone reservation fee. I instantly protested as the trip should cost me just 90,000 miles as I was traveling from the US to Asia Zone two. Yet for whatever reason he wanted to collect additional miles to get me from KUL to TWU. He placed me on hold, worked with the help desk and came back about 10 minutes later with good news. The ticket was now priced at 90,000 miles. I asked him to wave the phone fee as these partners are not bookable via aa.com but he refused. I thanked him, gave him my credit card information, he provided me with a reservation number, twitted to @AmerianAir that their phone fee was a joke, and quickly went to pack.
Flash Forward three hours: My ticket was purchased but aa.com was showing “requested.” I was getting nervous and called in the Elite Platinum desk to see what the holdup was. Per the agent, they saw no issue with the ticket, the twitter team had applied the $25 discount and the ticket should be issued shortly.
Another hour went by and my phone rang. It was the Elite desk; there was a problem with my connection time in LAX. 1 hour and 45 minutes was not enough per Cathay Pacific routing rules so they needed to move me to either a JAL flight had an overnight in Tokyo or an early AA flight from San Diego. I took the second option and hung up the phone. 15 minutes later, the SAME agent called me back; there was another issue with my ticket. Now instead of quoting me 90,000 miles the agent told me he was going to have to charge me 127,000 miles.
“Mr. Horan sorry to bother you again, but this is “Bob” from the Elite Desk calling, we just talked a couple of minutes ago and as I was trying to reissue your ticket, I noticed your ticket was priced wrong.”
“How is that? I am going from the USA to Asia zone 2, 55k miles in business and 35K miles in coach for a total of 90,000 miles”
“You are right Mr. Horan, however whenever we book tickets on our partners over the Pacific we must follow their routing rules and the problem that I am having is that neither JAL nor Cathay Pacific sell tickets from the USA to Tawau. The only carrier that does is Malaysian; therefore I am trying to get you a ticket on them across the pacific but cannot find any seats available, even revenue seats” – The agent continued on a long tangent about how the other agent that sold the ticket wrong, that he should have had more training which was why this was such an issue and then ended with, “Ok I have you booked still on Cathay, however this is going to cost you 127,000 miles instead of 90,000 miles and I have to price out separately the additional segments from KUL to TWU as both CX and JL only sell tickets from the USA to KUL but not TWU. However, as I understand that this is not your fault and the agent made a mistake, I am going to give you a bonus of 20,000 miles so you are not paying for the entire cost as we messed up.
I very politely interjected when he told me he was redeeming the tickets for more miles. “I’m sorry, but this ticket was already sold to me for 90,000 miles. I understand this so called perdictament, but I feel as though you are trying to do a bait and switch on me now, you sold me the ticket at 90,000 miles and now you want 127k”
“Well sure, the ticket was never actually processed, we just started it and then caught the mistake; this is why I called you”
“I understand that, however I know these calls are recorded and before I hung up, the agent told me that the flight was ticketed, he provided me with the reservation number, and told me it was 90,000 +$73 in taxes. Now you are asking for 127,000 miles, but after the credit, you’re basically asking for an additional 17,000 miles. This is absolutely unacceptable.”
“You are right. Sure these calls are recorded, and I know that this may seem strange, but this is policy and the agent made a mistake and will need additional training.”
“Again, I was told this was ticketed, I believe that under the DOT rules and regulations, once a ticket is priced and ticketed even with a mistake fare you cannot adjust or change the price. As I was told that this was ticketed, I feel as though this may be in violation of this policy.”
“Oh Sir, you are right, but this is not the case and it was only in the ‘processing ‘state and we found the mistake before it was ticketed.” Lots of rambling on and clicking on the keyboard followed by “but as we value your loyalty and this was our mistake, I just found a way to be able to give you a bonus of the additional miles, so it will be a wash. You will see 127,000 miles deducted from your account and you’ll receive the bonus miles to cover the miles above 90,000 within 48 hours.”
I thanked the gentlemen and hung up the phone.
So, American has more strict routing rules and some agents clearly do not know what they are doing. However, I warn anyone redeeming AA miles. If they quote you one price and then try to raise the price, stand your ground. Miles are a form of currency and you should never be quoted one price to pay a larger sum after the fact. This was my first AA redemption and I must say I am not looking forward to making more. AA clearly has some of the strictest routing rules in the US aviation mile point spectrum!