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So Upset - Tried to use American Airlines Advantage Miles for Free Flight

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Apr 5th, 2004, 08:35 PM
  #1
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So Upset - Tried to use American Airlines Advantage Miles for Free Flight

Hi all. I'm so upset, I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I have been an American Airlines Advantage Member for 9 year now. It has taken me these 9 years to earn 61,000 miles. I pay 85.00 a year to master card to be an advantage gold card member. When I signed up with advantage, they paint a pretty picture of being able to use your miles. It takes 30,000 miles per person for a NY to San Juan round trip flight, so with my 60,000 miles, i'm so excited to use these miles.
I picked my flights on AA.com, round trip for the both of us would have cost us $ 1,372.80. Ouch! But i'm not worried because i'm using my miles, right, - WRONG!
When I called in to use my miles, the operator tells me that I cannot have either flight. It turns out AA sets aside 4 seats per flight for any reward travel. 4 seats!! Are they kidding!!
So the only flight she could give me is 7:50 that night leaving NY and landing at 11:35 pm, on the return trip she could offer me nothing. I told her that we are cruising and must be in San Juan by 2PM (I want to play it safe) and she said that I should stay the night before. I told her, then who is going to pay for our hotel room? She said, you, of course. At this point I spoke to her manager who said that the only way I could use my miles for the flights I want is to double the points, so for 60,000 miles per person, the flights I want are mine! I said that I only have 61,00 miles total! (Remember, you get 1 dollar per mile. So in the past 9 years I have charged 61,000, I'm not that big of a spender to have charged 120,00 dollars! Are they kidding me!) Then he also said that he had no reward travel flights coming home, but he'll tell me what the rates are. I stopped him and said i'm trying to use my reward points so I don't have to pay! He said then there is nothing he could do to help me.
Steamed, I called the executive offices at AAdvantage travel. The woman I spoke to there listened and I told her, AA will lose me as a customer if you can't help me out here. She said she was sorry about this & she will note my comments. I asked to speak to her supervisor & she said that there were no supervisors available, but they will review what she wrote. I asked if a manager will be contacting me and she said no.
I'm just so frustrated about this. I had'nt counted on paying for airfare because I was think of using these miles. With free airfare, we were going to be able to pay for a jr. suite that i've been dreaming of! I'm even more possed that i've been a loyal AA customer for years and they did absolutely nothing to keep me as a customer. I was thinking of writing a letter to the president of AA advantage, but I doubt it would do anything. This just seems like false advertising to me, they advertise earn points & fly free, but my selection on flights was little to none. It also burns me that there is availability on these flights! ) :
I did tell the last lady I spoke to that there are too many competetive airlines at a lesser cost (Jet Blue, Ted, Song) out there to deal with this. She had no comment. My best friend uses her American Express card & uses her free points with Delta all the time, she never has had this type of problem.
Just wanted to vent,
Thanks for listening,
Marina
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Apr 5th, 2004, 08:52 PM
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Maybe you just have inflated expectations about mileage and how to use them. All airlines have limited seats available for FF uses, and they are especially hard to claim for flights to the Carribean, Hawaii, or to Europe in the summer.

This is nothing new, and not specific to any airline. Many people book their FF miles to those areas I mentioned close to a year in advance, unless they wan to use double miles.

It's much easier to claim domestic flights.

I understand why you're upset, and you may find that you've been misled about the availability of free tickets. Unfortunately, that's the truth, and my point is that this is definitely not limited to AA.
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Apr 5th, 2004, 10:24 PM
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I agree that this is an ongoing problem with all airlines, and it's been getting worse.

One airline told me that people call at 12:01 AM 331 days before their desired flights (the earliest momesnt miles can be redeemed) in order to use FF miles.
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Apr 5th, 2004, 11:13 PM
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Just want to add a few things.

1. If one has elite status with an airline (usually by getting 25,000 or more "elite qualifying miles/points" a year), then there are more seats available for using FF miles even at the lowest level.

2. There will also be more seats opened up for claiming very close to the actual dates. However, this probably won't help for those planning to use their miles on a specific vacation a few months ahead.

3. It's generally not a good idea to pay that much a year ($85 in your case) to get in a single-airline credit card. Instead, look at something like American Express. Its AE Blue credit card has no annual fee, but then enroll in Membership Reward for $40/year. You then earn the same one mile per $1 spent, but now you can transfer those miles to CO, DL, USAir or other airlines for a small fee ($10 per 25,000 miles). So, you can call the airlines to make sure seats are available before transferring.
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Apr 6th, 2004, 06:29 AM
  #5
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I'm sorry to hear you were unable to get seats on the flights you wanted but as others have said, Award seats on flights to popular destinations such as the Caribbean are limited. You have to realise that there are literally millions of FF members and only a finite number of flights (and award seats) to a given destination. While this situation is especially frustrated to those people like you who are not frequent travelers and are trying to claim award seats for the first time you can take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Just about everyone of us FF members have gone through this same experience at one time or another, usually early on in our tenure. One learns quickly that award seats are limited and one has to be very flexible as to dates and times of travel and one must book them as early as possible (up to 330 days in advance). As others have said, this situation is prevelant throughout the industry and is not unique to American Airlines. To be fair, limited seat availability is fully explained in the terms of the Frequent Flier Program rules, but must people don't take the time to read the fine print. I, for one, rarely use my miles for free travel but instead keep my eyes out for low fares then use my miles for upgrades to Business or First Class.

 
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Apr 6th, 2004, 07:45 AM
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You don't say when you called and when you are wanting to travel. To use frequent flyer miles to book seats and be assured of the dates you want, you must call way ahead (330 days) if it is a popular market (which the Caribbean is). Some seats often open up closer to travel time, but you can't depend on that.
I'm sorry you were disappointed, but in reality, if it took you 9 years to earn 61,000 miles, your business is not very important to the airline, especially if most of the miles were earned using a credit card. Frequent flyer programs are in place to encourage loyalty of frequent flyers. American actually has the best program in my opinion--and yes, I have a Delta American Express card and fly on Delta too.
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Apr 6th, 2004, 10:43 AM
  #7
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I am an Aadvantage member also, and if you read the literature they will tell you that the three most popular destinations for FF awards are San Juan, Honolulu, and Orlando. If you want any of these destinations, you must plan about a year in advance. For other destinations, it is my observation that you will be hard-pressed to get what you want unless you plan 6 months in advance. It is true that more seats open up just before the travel date, but do not count on that for a popular destination like San Juan.

I am truly sorry for your disappointment, but if you change programs, you will find that the same rules apply. I know this because I belong to 3 different frequent flyer clubs, and except for Southwest Airlines, they all have limits for FF awards. The only thing I can suggest is re-booking your cruise (if possible) for next year and get your award tickets to San Juan now. Or, ask if you can re-book and take a cruise leaving from Florida, California, Texas, or New Orleans. You will probably have an easier time getting tickets to these destination. Sorry, I know that's not what you want to hear. I wish I could help more.
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Apr 6th, 2004, 11:14 AM
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As an avid AA fan I debated whether I should reply to this post. Many here know that I do love AA and their AAdvantage program and I always try to slightly steer people to what I believe is the best frequent flyer progrm in the business today.

That said, do I really blame the OP for her disappointment? NO. The airlines are selling a dream with the FF programs. Not everybody has the time, the motivation to study the programs like so many of us do. Many of us here are professional flyers. We rake in hundred thousands/millions miles and that makes us look deeper into the possibility of using the miles. In the OP's case it's the dream that the airlines sold that's to blame. It's funny that Delta was brought into this conversation, but I'm sure many of you saw the commercial of a lady parasailing over some paradise island and the announcer stating that it's all free, thanks to Delta miles and their CC.
Award tickets are free and they are very doable, IF............
Unfortunately many of the casual mile earners don't know that and the only thing they do know is what the airline tells them. Can you blame them? I don't think so.

To the OP. I hope you have learned a valuable lesson. Don't give up. The miles are great way to fly for free. Personally, I used AA miles to fly first class all over the world on tickets that were pricing out at around $15,000. It's there and available, you just have to learn the game.

It's true that Southwest will let you fly on ANY available seat with an award ticket, but I will never fly Southwest to find out. I want to be treated like a human being, not cattle for the other 5-10 flights that I need to earn the free ticket. Just my opinion and nobody has to agree with it.
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Apr 6th, 2004, 11:35 AM
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I'm sorry to say this but it sounds like you were a terrible candidate for the AAdvantage gold card. If you're only charging around $7000 a year (based on earning 61,000 miles over 9 years), it's not worthwhile to pay an annual fee in return for airline miles. You're much better off just buying your tickets. Also AA wouldn't see you as a loyal customer as it sounds like you've never actually flown the airline (only earned credit card miles).

I've only recently started to redeem AA miles, but based on my limited experiences so far, they seem to have better award availability than most of the other major airlines. Back in late January, I was looking for 2 tickets from LAX to Quito for September. I tried CO first and couldn't find anything. Then I checked AA and not only was there a good choice of possible dates but also a choice of 2 flight times. I put the flights I needed on hold but before ticketing I changed my plans and decided I would rather make the trip in May. I went back to check flight availability for May (realizing this would be more difficult) and to my surprise was able to find dates that would work for us (although no choice of flight times). So while I had to settle for less desirable flight times, I was still able to get the dates I wanted for a trip within 3 months. At the same time, I also checked on flights from LAX to St. Thomas for March (high season and only one month away) and found good flight connections for both outbound and inbound on weekend dates.

I don't know when you were looking to travel but if you're going to use your miles, you need to plan ahead or have some flexibility. Delta is my primary carrier and I've redeemed a considerable amount of Skymiles over the years. I doubt you would have done any better with DL as I find they're generally more restrictive. Also when booking your own air for a cruise, it's always a good idea to fly in a day early. If there's any delay and you miss your ship, neither the airline nor the cruise line is responsible and you'll have to pay to get yourself to the next port to join the ship.
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Apr 6th, 2004, 11:58 AM
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Can understand your disappointment - but as others have stated, the ads for FF programs always show people enjoying their virtually free vacations - not reminding you how difficult it can be to redeem miles.

In my opinion, several things have contributed to this (not that this may help your situation, but sometimes it makes it a little better to understand why)

First, lots of business travelers have been collecting miles for years - far more miles than they will ever use (we are in this category). Frequent travelers have the opportunity to collect stories from others so they can be very educated mileage users - these are people with whom you are competing for those limited seats.

Secondly, many airlines now offer their most frequent flyers (Silver, Gold, Elits - depending on what they want to call it) almost unlimited upgrades to a higher class ticket. These are people who might have been using up miles for upgrades - now they just bank them for personal use.

Lastly, I suspect FF ("free") tickets are less plentiful than before. With so many airlines struggling and brand-loyalty becoming less valued (most people now shop price/schedule rather than favorite airline), there is less incentive for airlines to offer freebies. Flights are now fewer and fuller - if they can sell a seat, why give it away.

Unfortunately, all these factors combined against you when you tried to book very specific dates to meet a cruise - even if you know all the tricks and rules, it still is necessary to be extremely flexible about dates and times when booking flights.

Quite a mind-switch when you had been thinking of miles like money-in-the-bank, only to find out otherwise. Any chance you can shop around and find better air fare prices on another airline?
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Apr 6th, 2004, 02:17 PM
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I was pricing some cruises for my parents in the summer, and even as Gold Continental Elites (50K qualifying miles a year), it's very hard to find fares to SJU at the 35,000 miles level.

Anyways, $1,372 is a fair price for R/T for two people to San Juan these days. That's also about the same price as what most cruise companies charge for packaging airfare to the cruise. That's the extra price you pay for a Southern Carribean Cruise. You do see more from San Juan than from Miami on a 7-day itinerary.

Try talk to the cruise company and have them get the air tickets for you, and try to talk them into giving you an upgrade. You're more likely to succeed doing that than finding a cheap air ticket.

[In terms of policy restriction, CO is the hardest to get elite qualifying miles, followed by DL. AA is one of the easiest, and their "challenges" are great. However, living in Houston, me and my family has to rely on CO.]
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Apr 7th, 2004, 05:20 AM
  #12
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rkkwan--You mentioned AA's "challenges," please tell us what exactly you are talking about.
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Apr 7th, 2004, 05:37 AM
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P M,

Here it is:

Challenges are based ONLY on actual flown miles, no other miles are applied towards a challenge.

Just to confuse you a bit, challenges are based on points, NOT miles. It's not as bad as it sounds.

Here is how you get points:


Deep Discount economy- .5 point/per mile (Fares booked in G, L, N, and S)
Discount economy class - 1 point/per mile (Fares booked in H, K, M, Q (except American Airlines transatlantic fares booked in Q), W, and V)
Full Fare economy, business and first class get 1.5 points/ per mile

Remember - only the class purchased counts, not the actual class flown (if you got an upgrade for example), So if you purchased economy and got upgraded to business you still get economy points.

Ok, here are the requirements for challenges:
Gold - You need 5000 points in a 3 month period
Platinum - You need 10,000 points in a 3 month eriod.

So basically if you fly deep discount economy, you would need 10,000 miles for Gold and 20,000 miles for Platinum in a 3 month period. Obviously if you were purchasing higher fares it will require less miles.

So, for example, marcy could possibly do the challenge for Gold in one trip to Europe if she is able to squeeze out 10,000 miles (creative routing sometimes helps ). If she did IND-ORD-FCO, I believe it should be just right on the dot.

You have to call AA Customer Service, be AAdvantage member and ask for the challenge you want to do. You will have to pick a start date (either the 1st or 15th of any month) and you will have 3 months to complete it. Do NOT sign up for Platinum thinking that Gold will be automatic if you don't make Platinum. There were reports that you could sign up for both at the same time, but more than not you can't.

One very important fact. If you do the challenge during the first 1/2 of the year, your new status will only be good till end of Feb of the following year. If you complete the challenge during the second 1/2 of the year (you actually have to start no earlier than 7/15 to qualify for this) your status will be good till the end of Feb of the year after the following.
The thinking is, that if you completed the challenge early, the miles sill count towards regularly obtained status, so you have plenty of time to renew your status before the end of the year.

The perks:

Gold - check-in at business desk wherever possible, regardless of class of service.
1.25 miles per each mile flown
Ability to pick exit row seats during reservation.
24 hour upgrade clearance if available
Few other things.

Platinum - Check-in at the First class desk wherever possible.
2 miles per each mile flown.
Free access to Admirals Clubs and other partners clubs when traveling interntionally.
Same seating perk as Golds.
72 hour upgrad clearance if available.
Few other thing.

Ok, class, dismissed.

Hope this helps and if you have any questions just ask
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Apr 7th, 2004, 05:40 AM
  #14
 
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If you got all of those miles using that CC, then you paid 9x$85 = $765 for the award, so far. Call the CC company and tell them to remove the annual fee (negotiate for a lower fee if they say no). While they are at it, tell them to reduce your interest rate.
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Apr 7th, 2004, 06:33 AM
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Just a follow up to the chllenges strategy.

Few yeas ago when I realized that I will be spending a lot of time on planes in the near future I found out about the challenges. What I did was, 2 quick trips to London on consecutive weekends. This was in October of 2001. They were practicaly giving away the tickets. I believe that I paid around $350 per. I have some interests and friends in London so I looked at this as an expensive weekends out. The result was me gettng the Platinum status, so when I started to fly seriously the following year, the 2X actual miles flown, turned into a great perk. The following year I flew over 100K miles which with the status bonus and few other bonuses quickly turned into over 300K miles in the bank. Needless to say I did move up to Executive Platinum since which is even better, but the miles earned getting EXP allowed me to travel to many far away places in first class, and some tickets were pricing out at over $15,000. I would have never paid that kind of money, but believe me, when the day comes where I have to be back in coach on some 10 hour+ flight, I will cry. The bottom line is, that $700 was the best $700 I ever spent.

The above example is great for anybody that will do some serious flying while having status. If you just fly once a year or so, then spending extra money to obtain status is a waste of money and time.
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Apr 9th, 2004, 05:16 AM
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To the poster who claims SW treats you like cattle, I can only assume you don't fly AA out of Nashville. I won't tell you how they treat passengers, but like cattle would be an improvement. I take SW every time.

I was at one point a Gold on Delta and AA. I found AA much harder to deal with on FF tickets then Delta. SW is easiest by far, BUT they don't do any international.

I can understand why the first poster is upset. I watch those commericals for milage cards and think.... they are selling pipe dreams.

SORRY!
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Apr 9th, 2004, 07:28 AM
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Southwest has its advantage and disadvantages. And the lack of assigned seats and their boarding system is a main disadvantage for many business travellers until recently when you can check-in online and get your boarding "group" assignment.

Prior to that, it means going to the airport early if you want to get a good seat, and STANDING IN LINE AGAIN at every connection point. It's not a good experience, trust me. It's better now. One just needs to stay up till 12:01am and check in online before going to bed.

For a business traveller who has elite status with an airline, that means he/she can pick his/her favorite seat on the plane during booking; and possible upgrade to First Class. These are perks that are not possible with Southwest.

So, if I need to make a last-minute trip up to Dallas from Houston, I would definitely take WN. But if I'm going to either coast, I'll definitely look elsewhere first.
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Apr 11th, 2004, 01:09 PM
  #18
 
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oceanolympia - I'm sorry about your difficulty redeeming your points.

There are other credit cards that earn free flights that AREN'T ff flights. Cards such as National City First Air Elite Visa($29 a year). You earn points for all charges. These points can then be used to buy regular tickets (not ff tickets) on any flight - no blackout dates. There are some restrictions on these cards such as your points expire at the end of 5 years, you can't do open jaw or upgrades, and they do cost a few more points for tickets than ff tickets. The advantage is being able to fly anytime and not have to depend on the availability of ff seats.

There are other cards with this type of program. I think Capital One has a similar card.
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Apr 11th, 2004, 03:57 PM
  #19
Cassandra
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By my calculations, 9 times $85 is $765 -- what you've paid if you paid that $85 for all 9 yrs (would be surprised if you actually had). You can look at that $765 two ways -- as interest you paid to charge the $61K on that card or as money you didn't have when it came time to buy a ticket to San Juan.

Don't get me wrong, we have an AA card AND Dear H. eats a LOT of Kellogg's cereals with the 100 mile coupons on the back (and I mean a LOT!). But DH also flies enough to qualify for Gold, and we've almost always used the miles for upgrades rather than tickets -- which I think is a better value/use for them.

I was equally dismayed the first time I tried to use some UA miles on a European ticket -- this maybe 10+ years ago -- and I know how upset you must be. Everyone seems to have to learn this hard lesson about limitations on award seats at some point -- sorry it happened to you this way.
 
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Apr 12th, 2004, 10:46 PM
  #20
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Not just for reward (mileage) travel, but for any travel, you have to be really flexible to get the specially advertised prices- this may mean going several different than your first choice! Remember that you are not the only one who wants to out on Saturdays, or someplace sunny at spring break, and the airlines do limit the number of seats that they will allow for both special fares and for freebie seats- of course, they want to keep some to sell for a higher price, as they don't really make anything on the specials. Start checking early, then you can always check back- if you are too late, then you may be out of luck!
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