Post 11 – Hang up, Call Again! (HUCA)
As I’m sure most everyone has experienced before, phone agents can make or break any situation. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy, but using this one simple trick you can maximize your chances of getting a great experience on the phone, especially with airlines and hotels.
1. How to choose your best program.
2. Understanding the ins and outs of your program.
3. Earning with program partners and redemption.
4. How to earn apart from flying on planes.
5. The hidden DNA of credit cards.
6. Not all points and miles are the same.
7. Aspirational rewards and good mileage values.
8. Importance of status and elite benefits.
9. Manufactured spend basics
10. Searching for deals. Mistake fares. Mileage runs.
HUCA, also known as “Hang Up, Call Again” has been the single most effective and best means of getting what we want or need when calling into the airlines and hotels. Remember that most travel companies have policies and procedures, but the person that you’re speaking to often has leeway to adjust or change them as needed. We’ll go over some examples of things that can be easily achieved by simply making sure that you talk to the right people on the phone.
Knowing your rights
Knowing what you rightfully deserve and should expect is the first step to having success with HUCA. There are a lot of phone agents out there, and many of them are simply contracted workers, often overseas and not based locally in the US. Because of that, they often follow a basic script and on screen prompts, without using any ingenuity or independent thought. That’s what they’ve been trained to do, and that’s all they know. If you feel that your request isn’t out of line, instead of fighting, simply hang up and call again!
Some simple things that you’re entitled to (that you may not know) are often spelled out in the contract of carriage of the airline. Lets talk about some real life examples.
Pre Flight Schedule Changes
Often airlines schedules change, and if the change affects your travel plans then you should be able to get the airline to switch you to a flight that better suits your needs. For example, if you were flying from Los Angeles to New York direct, and that flight was then cancelled and you were rebooked on a flight that now has a connection in Atlanta, Dallas, etc, you should be able to either A) Get a direct flight at a different time or B) Cancel the flight without any penalty. If the agent declines, politely say thank you and HUCA. Remember, that if you are combative or put up too much of a fight, the agent has the power to place notes in the record and this could affect you if you call back again. If you’re boring enough to not make much of a difference in the life of the agent, he or she might not place any notes under your record.
Day of Cancellation or Schedule Changes/Delays
Flights are delayed because of weather all of the time, and because of that the airlines have placed in their contract of carriage an “acts of god clause” meaning that if weather or some other event causes a delay of a cancellation you can’t be compensated. But what if the delay or cancellation is caused by a mechanical or crew issue? Did you know that you can usually request a flight on a competitor’s airline or change flights with that airline itself? As an example, I was flying from Raleigh to New York on Delta a year or so back, and the flight was delayed because of an engine issue. I immediately went to the desk agent and requested that I be placed on the American flight that was leaving at roughly the same time. Because they could not find the reason for the mechanical issue, they rebooked me on the American flight right away.
You want to change or cancel your flights
Have you ever decided that you wanted to change your flight or needed to cancel, but found out that the airlines won’t refund your money? Have you tried HUCA? You’d be surprised how many times it works. Just recently my family came to the USA and they were to arrive on the 8th of the month. I accidentally booked a flight on the 7th of the month for my family, but I needed them to be flying on the 8th. Just before they were to leave, I realized the grave mistake and had to immediately call the airline. Usually the airline would charge a $150 rebooking fee, $25 phone booking fee, and whatever the difference in the fare would be. The first agent told me that I would have to pay $450 to change the tickets, $75 for doing it over the phone, and a cost difference of over $350 per ticket. Quite a lot of money for my simple screw up. I told her that I wanted to revisit my options and thanked her very much. I decided to HUCA and got a more responsive agent who got her supervisor involved. She said that her supervisor was willing to waive the change fee and the cost difference, but that I would have to pay the phone booking fee. Without any hesitation I said YES! and booked right away. The savings for HUCA? $1,500. Anything truly is possible if you just ask the right people.
Ever been in a “presidential mood” and wanted that coveted suite upgrade at a hotel? Why not just ask for one? I can count on one hand the number of times that Ben and I haven’t had a suite upgrade. It just depends on whom you ask and how you ask for it.
Who not to call?
The wrong people to call in this case are the agents on the 1-800 line. The usual response from them is “I will annotate your record and the check in agent will be able to assist you.” This means that upon check in, the agent will (sometimes) see a pop up message saying that you’ve requested an upgrade, but then again they could always choose to ignore it.
Who to call?
In this case, it’s best to call the hotel directly before your arrival. Two of the most helpful people in this instance would be the rooms manager or the front desk manager. Be simple and direct with your request, and understand that the person you’re talking to has all the power in the world to make sure you have an excellent stay. Usually I’ll say something like “Hello Susan, my name is Jon and I’ve got a reservation for two nights coming up on XYZ date. (Yes Mr. Jon I see that here, how can I help?) We’re celebrating a special occasion and I’d like to know if it was possible, and if you have the space available, that you could put in a request for an upgrade to a Suite? It would certainly mean the world to us. Also, would you be able to send an extra set of foam pillows and towels to the room? We’ll be arriving around 5pm and we’d like to be able to clean up and rest right away when we get there.”
The reason for doing this is two fold. First, if they have the space available, they can put in the request for you. Secondly, and most importantly, if you have a special request ready for the room “upon my arrival at 5pm…” then the pillows and the towels will be ready and waiting for you in the room. This means that the rooms manager will have to “block” or set aside a room for you instead of leaving it to the discretion of the check in agent, who may or may not be willing to help you get any sort of an upgrade.
After your stay or flight
The same HUCA philosophy applies if you’ve already finished your trip and you had a less than exceptional experience. Airlines and hotels want to make sure that you’ve got a reason to come back and visit them again, so if they can offer you a gesture of goodwill in the form of points of a voucher. Many airlines and hotels offer a digital/email channel to voice concerns and are pretty good about getting back to you. I usually start with this method and wait to hear back from the company. If the response wasn’t quite what I expected, or the compensation what I was hoping for, I’ll call into the guest relations department of the airline and speak to someone. Those agents have the power to give miles, vouchers, points, etc, in order to make customers happy. So I suppose in this case it’s not hang up and call again, but write first, call later.
Hopefully this has been a good primer for you on your HUCA experience. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t get the answer you’re looking for the first time you call. Especially with airlines and hotels, it might take 2 or 3 calls to get the proper resolution but be patient, and usually it’ll result in a good experience for you!