Reader Mike has lots of frequent flier miles that he’d like to cash in with Continental Airlines. As he found out, this is extremely difficult. Here’s an email he sent to the CEO of Continental, Larry Kellner:
Dear Mr. Kellner,
I’m not the type of person to generally write letters such as this, but Continental used to be a company I not only used regularly for travel, but that I also envied enough to want to work for. On top of flying 50,000 miles or more over several years, I even applied for a job with Continental because it seemed like an organization I would want to be a part of.
However, I hate to say that, in the past several months my experience with Continental has been so aggravating that I have not only become increasingly frustrated, but have even changed my allegiance to another airline. I would have considered this a clean enough break in my relationship with your company, if I did not have a few existing reservations with Continental that require me to still deal with your customer service group. These dealings, as recently as today, leave me completely dumbfounded.
My difficulties started when I attempted to use a number of my accrued miles to purchase BusinessFirst reward tickets for my fiancee and I to go on our honeymoon. After putting two ideal reservations on hold, I called later that night to book the reservation. After a quick and easy phone call, I was told the reservations had been made, the miles deducted, and we were all set to go. When I asked why the reservation still showed as, “On Hold” in my online account, rather than, “Confirmed”, I was told that it would take several hours to process, and I would receive an email.
After several hours had passed I became anxious and called back to customer service to check why the status had not changed. I was told that not only were the reservations not confirmed, but they, in fact, had been changed in such a way that my fiancee and I had been split into separate records, my held reservation only showed one leg of the trip, and my fiancee’s flights were for different dates. Moreover, I was told that the flights I had originally put on hold were no longer available at the 100,000 mile award level, but that I was welcome to book them for 250,000 miles each. Keep in mind that throughout this process, I had printed copies of my original reservation, showing the proper flights on hold and ready for purchase at the correct price.
I will spare you the details of what ensued. I actually kept a running log of the next 8 phone calls I had with customer service, over a 3 day period, for a sum total of 12 hours. Through some miracle, throughout this ordeal, I was connected with one amazing customer service representative who had sympathy for my situation. Still, try as she did to help, her job was only made harder by a number of ridiculous policies, including the fact that she was not allowed to give an extension where I could call her back, nor was she allowed to call me back, though she regularly needed to leave for long periods of time to call other groups within Continental and partner airlines. Through sheer tenacity, and I don’t want to know what else, after three days this representative was able to cut through enough red tape to restore our original reservation.
The question still remains – why did all this have to happen? By the time I found my way to this first helpful representative, there was no way in the system to look back and determine who the representative was who had mangled my reservation, yet told me it was correct. And, of course, there was no way to determine which representative was the one who hung up on me, after curtly telling me that I had attempted to force the online system to somehow book a reservation that it should not.
Today, I intended to make one small time change to an entirely different, existing reward reservation. I checked online to ensure availability, and called customer service to make the change. After I agreed to a $35 charge, the representative told me the change had been made, the $35 charge had been made to my card, and that I would receive an email shortly reflecting the change.
Low and behold, an email arrived showing that, not only had I been charged $50 for the change, rather than the agreed upon $35, but what’s more, the flight had not been changed! The itinerary was exactly as it was before the call!!
I called customer service yet again. This time, I was connected to a less-than-pleasant representative who, when I asked to speak to a supervisor, explained that she was the, “first line of response”, and that I could not speak to a supervisor without speaking to her. I explained what had happened. The representative told me that the previous representative had misquoted the change fee, and that I would be charged the $50 (which I never agreed to) regardless. This ‘first line of response’ was then, fortunately, able to change the flight as requested.
It’s likely that you’re not even still reading this at this point. But, if by some chance you haven’t tuned out, my simple question is – what am I supposed to do when I deal with Continental?!?!? I realize that in practice the customer is not always right – customer service representatives are forced to deal with rude, ill-informed, and unreasonable customers. But in each of my dealings with the airline, I have tried my best to be none of these. Still, where does it leave me when every time I get off the phone with your airline, I’m left wondering if what I was just told was correct, or if what I was told was done actually was.
Am I supposed to start recording every conversation I have with your airline? I know that you do, but when I asked if those tapes could be accessed two representatives told me, “no”. So if I repeatedly find myself in the situation where I’m pitting my word against a representative’s, and that representative has the power to summarily dismiss me as wrong, what is my recourse?
I appreciate that you are busy, and further appreciate any time you have given to reading this. I don’t necessarily expect any answer, let alone any resolution. But, if you should have the time to even pass this on to someone who would be willing to answer, I would genuinely appreciate it. Without feeling like this situation won’t continue to arise, I don’t see how I could consider buying another ticket on Continental, and would encourage others not to as well.
Thank you in advance for your time,
Mike sent us an update:
Actually, though I didn’t expect any answer, I got way more than I had bargained for. After sending the email to both Larry Kellner, and to Consumerist, I got a call on my cell phone from the Executive Assistant to the CEO. The woman was very nice, and apologized profusely for the problems I have had. I got nervous when she pulled up the reservation I had fought for 3 days for, for our honeymoon, since it was finally right, and I didn’t want to risk anyone touching it.
But, she also said she would credit the difference in the fee that I was misquoted, and incorrectly charged.
Further, she emailed me her direct contact information, and told me not to hesitate to contact her in the future with any difficulties, or success stories, that I might have in dealing with customer service.
For what it’s worth, she said they would be tracking down the employee’s involved in the problematic calls that I had, to figure out the problems; but she did not imply that any of the follow up would be passed along to me.
All in all, I’d say I’m still wary to book anything else on Continental at this point, despite having a ton of miles still accrued. But, I will sleep a little better knowing that if we show up at the airport to leave for our honeymoon, and have any difficulties, I have a number to call for someone who won’t just immediately tell me I’m wrong and hang up on me.
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