Toronto T-Storms (part 1): AA makes every effort to ruin a wedding anniversary (and their twitter is awful)

It all seemed so simple and romantic. A wife thinking a wedding anniversary may be forgotten. American Airlines MileSAAver space available New York (LGA) – Toronto (YYZ). British Airways Avios price only 4,500 each way (the MileSAAver is key as only those can be booked with Avios). Friday afternoon whisked from work to the North American land of smiles, back Monday morning in time for work.

Booking presaged the hassle to come. Everything priced right on the British Airways website, and though I generally do not like the concept or value of purchasing miles, trying to maintain a modest store of Avios, I selected the cash copay to cut the miles price in half, bringing the roundtrip total for two to 9,000 Avios and $255. Booking error. Several times, with different browsers, credits cards, accounts. Please call British Airways. Well, they shut down for the night at 8 pm Eastern. The next morning the seats were still available and after a modest hold was able to get the tickets issued and the telephone fee waived but the price for the taxes and fees was now $264, not enough difference to argue about.

Hotels were tight and expensive due to the Rogers Cup, though did ok with a Priceline booking. I had targeted the Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Lakeshore for its view and free parking/free internet, as that is the only reported 3-star hotel in the Priceline Lakeshore District, but the price kept climbing and I was not going to pay $175/night to book it through the hotel. We ended up in the Markham/Richmond suburb of Hong Kong Toronto, positioned for feasting.  Canadian car rentals generally are quite expensive. Capital One had huge savings on Avis and Budget (see parts 1 and 2 on Capital One car rentals).

Then thunderstorms started Thursday, kept up intermittently on Friday and AA felt flat on its face. They called my wife even though I was primary on the reservation, with an automated message that tried to dupe her into accepting a 4:30 pm flight late Saturday afternoon. She wisely hung up because was not sure of the options. She got me pulled from a meeting and I saw that AA had already stuck us on the Saturday flight and no better alternative was showing.

From prior experience I knew BA would be useless. My last attempt to fly AA with Avios, back in January, had my Miami (MIA) – Belize City (BZE) segment canceled for non-weather reasons and took many early morning hours to try unsuccessfully to resolve on the phone with AA while BA slept, and then finally at Atlanta (ATL) an AA agent was able to get me on the Delta nonstop after Delta agreed to release a seat for me, as I ran back and forth across the terminal to coordinate.

Back to Friday, I got on the phone with AA, calling their reservations line and while on hold for about 25 minutes, watched as the options on alternate airlines disappeared. First agent said that I had ended up at the domestic desk, she would need to transfer to international. More waiting. That agent said it should have gone to the AAdvantage desk. More waiting. Still one Delta flight showing availability. She agreed to call Delta. Hold music for about 10 minutes, then silence. Disconnected. No return call from the agent. Start over and this time found the AAdvantage direct line. Waiting for 37 minutes.

Meanwhile was trying twitter customer service for the first time. I have heard good things about @DeltaAssist but never needed them. I tried @AmericanAir, they took over 10 minutes to initially respond and direct me to DM. I worked the DM while on hold with the phone, repeating a pointless cycle of them telling me to send them the record locater, then silence for 10 minutes or so, then saying they are busy, then saying to re-send the record locater. Public efforts with @AmericanAir did nothing to help.

Finally got an agent on the phone, a Delta JFK-YYZ Sat morning was still showing…and then gone. He was able to get me on the flowing Delta JFK-YYZ at 11:30 Saturday. Far from ideal, few things I like less that going to/from NYC airports on weekends, but the best of the options.

In total it took over 2 hours to accomplish this. No Friday Chinatown lunch that day. Before my afternoon client meeting I notified the hotel we would be a day late and changed the rental car reservation. Capital One car rentals are prepaid but you can change once or cancel, though it needs to be done on the phone. The phone agents are always nice though it takes time because first a rewards agent needs to verify info then pass over to the travel agent. The travel agent was great, spoke to Budget at YYZ and made the changes.

During my meeting I was still burned about flying Saturday and wasting so much time. Encouraged with big twitter assist by my friend @AAdvatageGeek, about 5 pm I saw that a Delta codeshare with WestJet had 3 open seats on its last Friday flight from LGA. My wife was still game so this time I started with the Delta Diamond line to see if they could do anything, since I was now ‘their passsenger.’ A rare Diamond agent that was not great, he variously said they could not see the flight, could not see the flight status because the prior night’s flight had gone over into Friday morning and was showing that info, and could do nothing.

I went back to AA, this time the wait about 25 minutes. The first agent was very friendly yet said she could do nothing since I was already over to DL. She said the Help Desk confirmed the same. She offered to transfer to a supervisor, which I accepted. The supervisor started by telling me I should be dealing with BA. Not a great start, but with a little relationship building and pity-inducing she agreed to look into it, put me on hold and came back a few minutes later with two seats on WestJet. Hurray! The 7:30 flight was then delayed until 9:08 leaving enough time for us to still reach the airport.

I called my wife, “Go.”

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  • After all that hassle, I’m glad you made it to YYZ on a reasonable alternative. Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and let’s hope for a better flight home.

  • mark

    Title was a bit harsh considering you did use BA miles and got there successfully despite weather. And, more blame in your post should have gone BA.

  • Happy anniversary!

  • Victor

    I disagree with your assessment of AA twitter. They have always been great. Thinking that things will work swimmingly with any Ops during weather disruption is simply naieve.

    I can’t tell you how many times I hear uninitiated travelers complain about weather delays as if any airline can command the clouds to part so that they can get on with their travel.

  • Happy anniversary! I am surprised that you managed to find time to blog.

  • From prior experience I *new* BA would be useless.

  • @New Girl in the Air – I am sort of hoping to get rebooked on Delta for the return…see how long I can go on flying AA without actually flying AA.

    @Mark – I am not sure how much responsibility BA has once I am on AA, for instance, AA did the auto-rebooking without BA’s involvement on both my trips. The intricacies of those arrangements are not something I have researched.

    I only got there by spending over 4 hours calling, persisting, cajoling. If it was up to AA on its own good graces I would not have been there Saturday night.

    @Victor – I did note that this was my first attempt with AA twitter, but in nearly two hours they never followed through on anything they said they would do. The disruption was limited primarily to Toronto, with a few intermediate showers on the US East Coast, AA should be able to handle volume during that kind of disruption.

    As for commanding the weather, in this case Air Canada, Delta, United and WestJet were able to command weather through the day enough to get most flights out, only AA blanket cancelled a bunch many hours ahead. I do not think it is naive to expect that it should not take multiple hours to get a proper rebooking completed under such circumstances.

    @MMS and Jimmy – thanks!

    @Nathan – thanks for the sharp eyes!

  • guera

    Were you able to change your Priceline booking with no fee? I had always assumed that a Priceline reservation, once made, was written in stone.

  • @guera – not able to change Priceline. The Priceline help section advises to notify hotels of delayed arrivals so that they do not send a cancel notice to Priceline. I would have been out the money either way but did not want to lose the rest of the stay.

  • Ann

    Hi Stefan,

    Could you please elaborate on why you were able to fly Delta/West Jet with your Avios booking? I’m confused on how BA Avios/AA ==> Delta/WestJet. Thanks!

  • @Ann – I was able to fly them by being on hold for hours, begging AA customer service agents, begging AA supervisors, etc. Since it was due to weather they did not need to reaccommodate me on another airine and I have no status with them, but in the end I got it. Previous time to Belize was an AA issue, not weather, and they immediately agreed to move me to Delta because the AA alternative was so much later.