Dear Yanni...How do I get off of hold?
How to side-step the phone queue, booking business class on the company's dime, and surreptitious surcharges in this week's column
I need to change the return leg of a flight that heads out next week, but any time I try to call the airline I find myself on hold for what feels like hours before I have to give up and move on with my life. Any tips on how to get a real person on the line faster?
- Held Up in Houston
Your call will be answered by the next available representative within 50-120 minutes from now. Cue the unironic hold music of En Vogue’s “Never Gonna Get it.” We can all agree that waiting on hold or for a call back is the worst. So before you dive feet first into the longest hold time, you may want to find ways to bump yourself up the queue.
Loyalty status? If you’ve earned status on an airline, or if your generous employer *cough cough* bought you into a status level, then you will receive priority by dialing in to the dedicated line. It’s best to keep these numbers at the ready, since airlines are getting good at hiding them in search results and we all know the pains of calling the wrong number and that delicate dance of should I hang up now? … I bet they’ll pick up… how about now? Ugh, it’s been 25 minutes I’m waiting… it’s been 120 minutes I’m going to throw this phone at someone. If you’re traveling with colleagues and everyone needs to make a similar change, you may want to hit all the angles and see who gets to someone first and then just piggyback on assistance. This is something I refer to as the in-airport “consultant huddle,” which seems to be the approach de rigeur of this subset of traveler since the advent of the Blackberry.
Para español, marque 8. Many US airlines offer multilingual support not just for US-based customers, but for customers in countries where the primary language is different. So, if a major weather event shuts down the whole Eastern seaboard, you may want to bypass US call centers. If you speak another language, I highly recommend selecting the alternative language call center, and even if you don’t, many international reps are still required to be bilingual in English. But why not dust off your language skills- d’accord mes amis? Double international pro-tip, many airlines have call centers that triage by location, so you can call a different country’s dedicated line and bypass that way. Flight grounded in London? Call the Australian line. Floods in Texas? Call the Canadian line.
Finally, remember where you booked your flight. If you have a managed travel platform, then you may want to hit up customer support. Major weather/other events aside, this can often by a simple way to take the burden off of your shoulders and receive assistance through systems that can bypass the logjams of traditional support channels.
My company’s travel policy permits business class fares for flights longer than 5 hours. But, those tickets are always super expensive...I’m flying across the country next week for a conference, and time is running out for me to pull the trigger (or not). Any tips?
- Frugal in Fairfield
There’s a reason why it’s called business class. That said, the culture of booking in business class can vary from company to company. Just because your company policy allows you to book in a higher fare class for a daytime flight doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Similarly, if company policy allows for the glories of a lie-flat business seat on a long-haul overnight flight, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage.
This is a tough issue to advise one way or another because I don’t know what those around you are doing. If your policy permits it, and everyone else makes use of this reasonable accommodation, then so should you. If you are on the same flight as your boss who is in economy, it’s pretty gutsy to book business, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. When I used to fly transcon with the executive director of a nonprofit we could only book economy, but I would book us in flights where the business upgrade was reasonably inexpensive and we would then change to business at our cost. It was a win for me and for her, plus an extra $200-$300 in lie-flat biz is life worth living. So, maybe upgrade yourself at your cost and offer the pro tip to your boss. Double pro-tip- it’s an easy way to get some one-on-one time over drinks (it’s always 5 o’clock in rows 1-5).
Self-care is a part of business travel. If you are flying overnight to a meeting, or back home and expected to work the next day after a long flight, this is a business-class no brainer. If the cost is exorbitant, then you may wish to pick a premium economy or seat upgrade, or even fly on a different day if that’s possible. Also, pay attention to the airline and aircraft. It’s silly to pay for business and just get a bigger seat when you can have a more premium seat experience at the same price. Above all, put your needs to be rested first. Too many employees burn out over saving $300 on a flight and I’ll bet you being at your best while representing your company at home and elsewhere is worth more than that.
I’m always trying to get the best deal when I travel for business, but it’s hard because the sites I use for buying airfare all display the prices differently! Some have fuel included, some have taxes, some have neither. Help! What should I be looking for when I see an airline ticket price breakdown online?
Surreptitious Surcharges in San Francisco
Yanni: Hi Surreptitious! Although I’m always happy to talk about the nuances of airline prices, I think my colleague (and airline expert), Shelby, is actually better suited to answer this.
Over to you Shelby!
Shelby: Hi there! Airline pricing can be so tricky to navigate, I'm glad you asked this question. My best advice would be to look at the TOTAL selling price including all taxes and fees before making a purchase or when comparing flight options. Some airlines display the base fare for a flight with fuel surcharges included and only taxes broken out and other airlines or sites break the fuel charges out to make the base fare look lower. In the long run, you will be charged for the fuel (sorry) and it can be a substantial portion of your ticket...on average about 40% but sometimes up to 70% of the total fare! TL;DR- to compare apples to apples be sure you're looking at total selling price including all taxes and fuel surcharges when deciding what airline tickets to buy!