This is a guest post from my friend Spencer Howard. Spencer brings his sunny smile on his world travels. Since I wouldn’t touch the Garuda first class award sale, Spencer agreed to share his battle to issue a ticket. We had planned to publish in December to help others chasing the prize. The supposed 48-hour ticketing process took 22 days so this incident is now a humorous memoir of the craziness of the miles and points hobby.
In December, the miles and points world exploded when Garuda Indonesia offered 90% off award flights. Garuda Indonesia and bloggers across the internet called it the “Best Deal of the Year!”
I called it GARUDA MADNESS.
If you haven’t already, I’d suggest you read Stefan’s post covering the uncertainty around actually making this deal work.
There was so much uncertainty…Could you hold a ticket? Did you need to visit a Garuda sales office have a ticket issued? Are any sales offices even still operating in the U.S.?!!?!?
Lots of people were confident in their answers to these questions, but hadn’t done the necessary research to be sure.
With all that uncertainty, who in their right mind would get involved in this mess and transfer Citi ThankYou Points to their Garuda Miles account?
Yep. I would. (Not sure what that says about me…)
Anyway, let’s talk about how this went down!
Finding Award Space and Holding a Ticket
I’m not sure Garuda was ready for the onslaught of phone calls and tweets from curious miles and points fanatics. Harry from their Twitter team had quite the day responding to TONS of questions (yes, I was one of the people bugging him).
Where I hit the point of obsession was calling Garuda’s Jakarta call center. In all, I called 32 times via Skype. To be clear, most of this time was spent becoming REALLY familiar with hold music and watching my Skype credit slowly disappear.
Why so many calls, you might ask. Well, the Jakarta call center will only let you stay on hold for two minutes. It seemed everyone and their mother was calling at the same time. I can’t imagine why… it was only the BEST DEAL OF THE YEAR!
So, on call 29 I finally reached a human. Rosie was super friendly, even though I’m sure she was exhausted by the time she spoke with me. She happily checked business and first class award availability across several outbound and inbound dates between Amsterdam and Jakarta.
I was pleasantly surprised when she found first class space that worked perfectly for my travel plans. I immediately asked to hold the award ticket, which Rosie was happy to do. That cleared up whether holds were allowed – they ARE!
Transferring Points to Garuda Miles
Since I had someone on the phone, I asked if I could complete the booking and have a ticket issued over the phone once I had sufficient miles in my Garuda account.
Rosie told me that if I had all 38,000 required miles for the promotional booking rate, I could complete the booking over the phone. However, if I needed to buy some miles to reach 38,000 miles, I would have to do that in-person.
The latter piece of info appears to be incorrect, as some were able to purchase miles over the phone via the Amsterdam office (Amsterdam will make another appearance in this story soon).
Once off the phone, I considered whether I was willing to risk 38,000 Citi ThankYou Points. I was happy to hear that I could complete the booking over the phone, but this was only one customer service representative. There could have been miscommunication without me knowing it, but there was only one way to find out.
So, I called the Jakarta office once more and was given the same information. Two for two – things were looking up!
I took a five-minute pause to consider whether I was willing to let these points go to waste if I couldn’t have a ticket issued via phone. I also had to consider that the points transfer could take up to 14 days (though, it usually takes about two days).
According the to the terms of the promotion, I needed to have my ticket issued by December 30, 2016, so it was important for me to consider the worst-case scenario–38,000 points transferred to a program I’ll probably never use again.
I decided the risk was worth the reward and made the transfer. Was this crazy? Perhaps, but I’m okay with it.
Once the transfer was made, it was on to the waiting game. My biggest concern was that the holiday weekend would delay everything. It did, but only a little. My points transfer took four days. Another small victory on this journey.
Now, I just needed to get this booking ticketed!
The Real Test: Will Garuda Issue the Ticket Over the Phone?
Until recently, redeeming Garuda Miles involved visiting one of their offices in-person. Recently, that was changed to allow online and phone bookings. However, the terms of this promotional deal required you to book in-person or over the phone.
Even with the terms listed as such, there seemed to be little confidence that the promo awards could be ticketed over the phone. Some were even saying with confidence that it could NOT be done.
To top it off, it seemed that all the Garuda offices in the United States were no longer operating. So, if you were in the States (like me) and visiting family for the holidays, booking over the phone was going to be crucial.
Fortunately, my call to Garuda’s Jakarta office was answered after only a few attempts this time, though I was starting to hum along unconsciously to the hold music. I gave them my booking reference number at which point I was informed that I need to call a different number for first class bookings and that they would be able to issue the ticket.
Great! This seemed like positive news. So, I called the first-class line and… they answered immediately! Yahtzee! I should have called this number originally and skipped all that time on hold.
The customer service rep asked for my booking reference number, then asked me to confirm the dates of my flights and the departure and arrival times of each flight. (Don’t they have that info?!)
Once that was confirmed, she asked for my Garuda Miles number. She then put me on hold while she accessed my account.
At this point, I’m thinking “Yes! This is going to happen!” No hurdles to ticketing on the phone. This is going to be great.
She returned to tell me that they are unable to access my account and that I need to email the customer service email for Garuda Miles. There was mention of a virus causing a problem, but I think the system was just having issues. Who knows?!
As it was already close to 3am, I decided to call it a night and try again in the morning.
I called the first-class line first thing in the morning. Again, no wait! How did I not know about this phone number before?!
Unfortunately, they had the same problem trying to access my account.
At this point, I’m thinking my hopes have been dashed because I was not about to hop a plane from Lexington, Kentucky to Singapore to visit a Garuda office.
In a moment of utter brilliance (or sheer desperation – I’ll let you decide), I called the Amsterdam office. My call was mercifully answered quickly (whew!) by Telma.
She asked for my booking reference number then put me on hold. I was surprised that I wasn’t asked for my Garuda Miles number or to confirm every detail of the booking before she would look into it. But, hey, I’ll take it.
She returned to the call and told me she would be emailing me the payment form momentarily. She said I could pay via credit card or bank transfer, but that a credit card is probably the best option as it would be the quickest option.
She wasn’t kidding. Three minutes after getting off the phone, I had an email from her. I quickly filled out the payment information and returned it.
Less than 24 hours later, my credit card had been charged.
48 hours later 22 DAYS later, I had my ticket in hand.
That’s right, 22 days later.
Apparently, there was an issue on their end accessing my Garuda Miles account thus preventing them from issuing my ticket. Needless to say, this had me worried my booking would be lost.
I confirmed with several customer service representatives that my booking would be fine, but the problem needed to be handled by someone in the main office.
Let’s just say I didn’t leave it there. I called both the Amsterdam and Jakarta offices multiple times, reached out via twitter, and emailed to see how things were progressing.
One mention of the account access issue and customer services reps knew they were talking to me. Didn’t even have to give my booking reference. That’s how often I talked with them. Talk about personalized service!
Fortunately, it all worked out and my ticket was issued.
Ahhh…..Sweet, sweet victory!
They each had someone in Singapore visit a local Garuda sales office on their behalf. This also involved filling out a power of attorney form to authorize their contact to complete the booking for them. I mean, that’s cool too, but I did get to stay in Kentucky and drink bourbon during the holidays.
What We Can Learn from the Deal of the Century
Deals like this are tremendously exciting. They often come and go within an hour, so there is an intense pressure to act quickly.
But, sometimes a deal isn’t right for you. This was a fantastic deal, but zero routes to States, it was inconvenient for lots of people
I am fortunate to work remotely so I could make it work, and I fall into a category that Stefan mentioned: an aviation geek who likes trying different airlines. I prefer to label myself as a discerning traveler with a penchant for collecting airline experiences like others collect fine wines.
However, deals can be confusing and no one wants to waste hard earned miles and points. Would it be the worst thing in the world? Of course not, but it can certainly be an unwanted surprise if you don’t know the risks going into it.
For those who had tickets on hold, I hope you were able to get this ticketed. I personally helped one person go through the process of ticketing over the phone–hell, he didn’t even have to deal with the insane account access issue.
Now, if you’ll excuse me… I need to figure out how I’m getting to Europe so I can see what Garuda first class is all about.
Since Stefan loathes traveling in Indonesia, does anyone else have some recommendations for a quick two-day visit? (editor: I have lightened up a bit over a cathartic day with Sumatran orangutans and even found a non-torment way to book Indonesia domestic flights.)
See you in the sky!
About Spencer: I’m told that I’m obsessed with miles and points. Just because I spend my entire day reading, talking, or thinking about points and the many ways to use them to travel doesn’t mean… fine, I’m obsessed. Find me at Spencer For Miles and The Points Consultants!