Posts Tagged ‘Southwest Airlines’

I’m back in LUV with Southwest

May 18, 2009
Diane is back in business as Southwest's ambassador

Diane is officially back in business as Southwest's ambassador

If you’ll recall from a previous posting, Wessel, and I had Southwest Airlines dividend miles we couldn’t use before they expired in early May. Then we learned that one can extend the miles for a year for $50. Not a bad deal!

When I called to extend mine in Feb. I was told that the one-year extension started the day I requested it instead of a year from the expiration date, so would expire Feb. 19, 2010. That would be in effect cutting three months off my rewards time! So I chose to wait and call back in May, so it would be good until May 2010.

Southwest airplanes at Tampa International Airport

Airplanes at Tampa International Airport

I called Wessel to warn him. Too late. Not only had he already extended his a few hours earlier, he specifically verified that the new extension date was April 25, 2010. “Are you sure,” I asked him twice. “Yes,” he said. “Well, if I were you I’d call back and check.” Sure enough, the new representative he got told him the expiration date is Feb. 19, 2010. Not only did he lose two months on his award period, they said they couldn’t change the date or issue him a refund. Even I called and pleaded his case, to no avail, though I was encouraged to write a letter to Customer Service.

Meanwhile, being a travel writer and all, I complained about the policy to a Southwest media relations person. What I loved about his response was 1) he didn’t try to gloss things over and 2) he wasn’t offering me special favors. I always hate when I’m offered a favor because I’m “press.” What I want is for policies to change for everyone. Special treatment to me doesn’t help anyone but me.

Here’s part of his reply:

Apologies were expressed for a policy not in the `Spirit` of Southwest

A forgiving customer service department honored the spirit of Southwest

“The truth is, we don’t receive many complaints about this policy, and it is very unusual for one of our Agents to misinform our Members of the expiration date. (He also later apologized for that misinformation.) In fact, we often hear from our Members who praise us for the generous policy of extending the Awards for a $50 fee. …. Unfortunately, we can’t make an exception to our rules — if we did it for one, in all fairness, we would need to do it for all, and I’m afraid that’s not something we can do. We’re terribly sorry we’ve disappointed such a long-time, happy Customer, and we hope that you and Wessel will have the opportunity to take a trip before your Awards expire.”

200905_34_SouthwestJust for fun, I wrote a letter to Customer Service anyway, as a customer not a media person. A week later, they called! They gave Wessel the extra time! They made an exception for a loyal customer! That was cool. Even the media guy was surprised when I later emailed him with the news.

All is forgiven. I’m back to LUVing Southwest. Phew.

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Alas, my LUV affair with Southwest dims

February 20, 2009

There’s an update to this here. I’ll link to the new posting as soon as I get it up. Southwest is back in my good graces. Well, except for that stupid Sports Illustrated swimsuit-decorated plane. What were they thinking?

Dear Southwest,

You probably don’t know how many times I’ve sung your praises, but it’s been often and it’s been in print. Well, now I have a criticism and a big disappointment.

My husband, Wessel Kok, and I were planning to use our Rapid Rewards Awards in April 2009 before they expired. But then we had to change our plans. So we decided to take you up on your kind offer to extend the expiration date “for a year” for an additional $50. Wessel’s Award was to expire on April 25, 2009, and mine on May 15, 2009. We already decided we’d likely use them for a trip to Boston in April 2010. (We’re so happy you’re adding Boston!)

When I called to extend mine I was told that the one-year extension started the day I requested it, so would expire Feb. 19, 2010. That is not good customer service! That would be in effect cutting three months off my rewards time! So I chose to wait and call back mid-May, so it would be good until May 2010.

The LUV affair with Southwest is fading

The LUV affair with Southwest is fading

I called Wessel to warn him. Too late. Not only had he already extended his a few hours earlier, he specifically verified that the new extension date was April 25, 2010. “Are you sure,” I asked him twice. “Yes,” he said. “Well, if I were you I’d call back and check.” Sure enough, the new representative he got told him the expiration date is Feb. 19, 2010. Not only did he lose two months on his award period, they said they couldn’t change the date or issue him a refund. So there goes our awards trip to Boston in April. Even I called and pleaded his case, to no avail, though I was encouraged to write a letter to Customer Service. And so here it is.

To your credit, I see that you do have something on your website (the rep helped me locate it) that says “Awards are reissued with a new, 12-month validity period that begins on the date that the request is processed.” Funny how that one rule is listed in bold type, when the others aren’t. That leads me to believe this happens to many customers, and I’m sure they’re as unhappy as we are.

The crazy thing is you also have a very generous Award policy on the flip side. If a customer doesn’t use or renew an Award, he/she has up to two years to still extend it for $50. Now that sounds like the Southwest I know and LUV. So on one hand you’re in effect giving some people extra years, while on the other hand, you’re short-changing those of us who are trying to plan ahead and didn’t read the fine print or, even worse, were given the wrong information.

What I’ve often praised Southwest for is making it easy and affordable to make changes. In this instance, you’ve fallen very, very short. At least by a few months. I’d LUV to hear how you justify this consumer-unfriendly rule.

Sincerely,

Diane Daniel, a very loyal customer

Delta does it again, but why?

July 31, 2008

I wish someone could explain this to me. Delta Air Lines again has upped its fee for checking a second bag on domestic flights, from $25 to $50 each way. Of course, they’re blaming the cost of jet fuel. (Second bags on international flights remain free. For now.) Delta’s luggage fee is now the highest among the six biggest US carriers. (My darling Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge a thing for the second bag.)

This collection would now qualify for fees (from 2001 archive)

This suitcase collection would now qualify for fees (from 2001 archive)

So here’s what I don’t get. According to a Bloomberg News story, Delta reported that fewer than 20 percent of all passengers check a second bag and “declined to say” how much additional revenue the new fee will generate. But it can’t be all that much, right? Could it even come close to CEO Richard Anderson‘s current compensation package of $11.3 million, as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution? Yes, that’s more than Eleven Million Dollars, or roughly 2.3 million second pieces of luggage. I know, small potatoes in the corporate world, right?

So why bother, what with all the bad press Delta has gotten from this announcement? Is it 1) We’ll take what we can get? 2) There’s no such thing as bad press? 3) We’re laying the groundwork for something? Now what would that something be?

Wessel's MBA (Master of Bicycling Activities)

Wessel's MBA (Master of Bicycling Activities) (Click to ENLARGE)

I don’t have an MBA, though Wessel does, and he doesn’t get it either. (Granted, his MBA is a Master of Bicycling Activities from the University of Okoboji in Milford, Iowa, so that doesn’t really reflect on his business acumen. But you should see his leg muscles!)

One of my favorite consumer books from last year was “Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day — And What you Can Do About it,” by Bob Sullivan. Well, I think Bob needs to write the sequel, “How ‘Fuel Fees’ Rip You Off Every Day,” and what they’re hiding.

Happy travels.

Your time is up at Air France

May 29, 2008

Mon Dieu! It’s bad enough that airlines keep us on hold interminably. But I’d rather be on hold than not be able to speak with anyone. Air France has a new policy this year that if the agents’ telephone queue is of a certain length, a caller is disconnected after holding for 30 minutes! (Yes, they warn you.)

Over the course of several days I tested the Air France reservations line about five times. Once I got through quickly, twice I got a recording saying the wait time would be four minutes (I didn’t stay on to check) and twice I held for 30 minutes before the call was disconnected. (Of course I was multitasking.)

Customer Service, not our priorityThis is what you could call ANTI-customer service. I asked Air France media relations rep Karen Gillo about the policy. Her answer: “I’m pretty sure we don’t have a policy that says people will be cut off.” Mais oui, I countered, which she later confirmed. I asked how many operators the airline uses and when do they turn on that blasted disconnect message, and of course she said, “we don’t answer proprietary questions.”

This issue came up when I tried to reserve seats for an Air France flight from Oslo to Paris. Had I been paying better attention instead of multitasking, I would have heard the *one* recording in the beginning that in-Europe flights can’t get seat assignments until check-in. (Dangit, I’d known that for years and forgotten.) While I was holding for 30 minutes the message was never repeated.

I know what you’re thinking: go online, you idgit. Well, guess what? I did, and there was absolutely no place that said “make a seat assignment.”

Poor Karen spent two days trying to figure out why that option was missing, passing along all sorts of misinformation before concluding it was because the seat-assignment option was blocked, it being impossible to make one from Oslo to Paris.

So why didn’t the website just say that, I asked? That would have saved, like, an hour of my time. (Not counting writing this.)

“That’s an issue with the software,” she said. “I sent a suggestion to the web people about that.” Karen said she’d let me know if they fix it. (My eyes are rolling.) Feel free to help Karen along by making your own suggestion using Air France’s online form. That is only for comments about their online service. I can’t find a general customer-relations email. If any of you can, I’ll post it here.

As I kept telling Karen, this is not about me (well, a little), but about all the other Air France customers going through the same thing. No computer option; no phone option. What’s a customer to do? Choose a different airline.

When the heck is Southwest going to start flying overseas anyway?

How to beat rental-car ripoff during spring break

February 1, 2008

If you know me, you know I have a big thing against most rental-car company practices. Jacking up, up, up the prices during peak season is one of my beefs. For you folks Enterprise Car Rentalflying to Florida (and I’m sure this works elsewhere) in the spring and renting a car, here’s a little trick of mine you might be able to use.  (I’d love to hear others’ strategies.)

In January I booked flights to Tampa from Manchester, NH, (where my friend Kristin is flying from), and Durham, NC, (where I’m flying from) on Southwest, and both were about $200 round-trip. Not bad for Easter weekend! But get this. Car rentals from the airport for five days were around $500!! Unbelievable.

Here’s what I did. As you probably know, Enterprise has little neighborhood offices all over the place, and they’re often (usually? always?) cheaper than airport rentals. I reserved a Indian Rocks Beach, FLcar at a location on my way to where I’ll be staying (Indian Rocks Beach). I’m paying a mere $30 extra to then drop it off at the airport when I leave. The grand total? $156!! Now that is a deal. If I picked the car up at the airport, still using Enterprise, the price would be $438. Other companies were charging even more!!

To do this fancy-schmancy different drop-off reserving, you have to call, not go online. But then Enterprise *offered* to give me the online price, saving me another whopping $5.

Enterprise is tops in car-rental customer service, and I’ve been saying this for years, not just since my $275 savings.

I’ll probably be able to get a ride from the airport to Enterprise, but if I couldn’t, a Super Shuttle ride for about $20 (including tip) would take me straight to Enterprise.

My scenario may not exactly suit your needs. For example, you could use a neighborhood Enterprise office in Tampa and be even closer. If you’re traveling in a group or family, it would be cheaper to take a taxi than pay for individual shuttles.

My main message here is that when prices are jacked up, try to rent away from the airport. Get creative!