I arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone Tuesday morning expecting to pick up the evening Brussels Airline flight to Monrovia, Liberia. For tragic reasons to many, it was not to be. My thoughts and sympathies with those directly impacted.
Those of us traveling face a practical challenge, and I have been learning the ins and outs of tickets booked with credit card points such as Citi ThankYou and US Bank FlexPerks.
DIY-ers should understand that these are travel agency tickets. That means in most cases, if you contact the airline, you will be redirected to your travel agent. Certain airlines need to be contacted directly, and some can be, though generally you need to call up Citi, etc.
Lesson 1: Have your reservations in order before something happens:
- Have you credit card info, trip info and contact numbers all accessible
- Have the airline record locater (PNR) – Citi ThankYou used to populate it after booking, lately I have had to call to get it
- Use the airline record locater to update all your contact information and frequent flyer program information, and do seat selection on the airline’s website – the information the agency sends over is always incomplete and at booking you can only enter the frequent flyer number of the operating airline
Lesson 2: I have never been contacted by Citi or US Bank about any flight delay or cancellation.
And there have been plenty. You must set up alerts with the airline.
Lesson 3: support is not 24 hours.
You can get left in a lurch depending on time zone.
- Citi: 800-842-6596 (overseas call collect 859-283-8016), Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. ET and Saturday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.
- US Bank: 855-487-1435 (overseas call collect 011-630-477-2838), Mon-Sun 8am to 12am EST.
Lesson 4: Prepare for a long phone call, with no email or chat support.
Generally you need to get through 3 people to have anything done. First the credit card person verifies your identity and wastes time with scripted stuff like “Congratulations, you have X points…” Then you get to a rewards person who again verifies your identity. Then you are transferred to a rebooking agent. I have not found any direct numbers or a way to short-circuit it. Trying to interrupt the scripts takes more time as the agents are insistent.
Once you get to the rebooking person, give them your phone number and implore them to call you back if disconnected, which happens a lot on weak wi-fi. You don’t want to spend another 15 minutes in the phone process.
Lesson 5: many of the agents are good.
I even had one resolve a hurricane-induced multi-day delay with notorious LIAT when I could not even get LIAT to answer any public numbers.
Hopefully this helps your travels when disruptions occur.
How I resolved my Brussels Airlines ticket:
I got off the ferry from airport to Freetown, Sierra Leone and booked it to the nearby Radisson Blu. Many of their hotels are Boingo hotspots which I have through my Amex Platinum. Failing that, as a Club Carlson Gold member, or out of pity, I figured they would give me internet access.
I pulled up alternatives, to my luck out of the handful of daily flights at Freetown, there was an alternate Kenya Airways flight leaving in 3 hours that I could just make (1.5 hours back to the airport by next ferry, while the circuitous drive is 2+ hours).
I used Google Hangouts Dialer to call Citi ThankYou. Free calls to US and Canada.
Fortunately I had booked within 24 hours so Citi was able to void my Brussels Airline ticket without having to cost time dealing with them, which were no doubt swamped and probably not re-accommodating passengers on Kenyan anyway.
The agent got me on Kenyan and I was off to the ferry with 25 minutes to spare for a neighborhood walk.