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How to Get Around Long Hold Times When Calling Airlines

by on March 12, 2012 · 17 comments

in Air Canada, American, British Airways, Delta, Points Guy Pointers, United, US Airways

One of the things I like doing least in life is calling up airlines. Even as a top-tier member in several elite status programs, I dread having to pick up the phone and speak with phone agents. However, as much as I don’t like it, it’s a fact of life for a frequent traveler because airline websites only allow you to do a fraction of the things you need to do, like changing flights, processing upgrades and booking complex awards.

This task is made even more intolerable when there are significant hold times. I’m an incredibly impatient person, so having to wait  to speak to a phone agent gets my blood boiling pretty quickly. Hold times can get egregious during weather situations and during technology outages. Many United flyers are still experiencing huge wait times to speak to representatives ever since they merged the Continental Onepass and United MileagePlus programs last week.

So how do you jump the line? Simply call an international customer service line.

TPG reader Rick emailed me this past weekend that he needed to change a United award and the hold times were insane – he basically would have to sit around wasting hours until an agent picked up. However, he simply used Skype to call United’s customer service line in Australia and someone picked up after the first ring! Thanks to Gary for giving him that tip.

I’ve been doing this for a while, yet I realized I never wrote about it. British Airways is one of the most annoying airlines to call because their US service center is only open from 7:30am- 8pm daily and there are usually hold times of up to 30 minutes. Solution? I call the Singapore office and instantly get great English-speaking reps. I’ve done the same with Continental, which had a reputation for not only long hold times, but disconnecting when you finally got through. I used to brush up on my Spanish and call the Mexico line during snowstorms – especially since those reps all spoke English as well.

Here are the links to major frequent flyer programs and their international call centers. When times get tough, get creative – but just make sure you have a cheap calling plan or use Skype because international calls can be pricey!
Air Canada Aeroplan
American
British Airways
Delta
United
US Airways

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  • Gary Leff

    Yes, I’m the one who told Rick to call Australia this weekend :)

  • Nic

    Well also if you select spanish most of the CSR will be bilingual.

  • http://twitter.com/MECarreno Marcos Carreño

    Does it matter if you have status? As AA Gold/Explat Family, we have never had any problems calling and the agents (at least some of them) are acutally quite fun to talk to. However, I will agree that calling the foreign offices is much easier (having called AA in Australia and Spain) and you have a better chance of less “robotic” responses.

  • http://twitter.com/mccaig Rhys McCaig

    Did this last week – was on hold to United for 3 hours before my called dropped – was furious. Realized it was only another 10 minutes until the Australian office opened – called and got through within 1 minute!

  • Neel

    Another good option is to use the phone numbers at gethuman.com I’ve had good luck with these of most of the airlines.

  • Asdfasdfasd

    Do you have your helmet on for these kind of comments:

    ‘You ruined for everyone. Shame on you. Just another typical sell out.’

    thanks for the tip… i find skype to be variable, sometimes it’s so hard to hear even w/good connection.

  • Andrew

    just recently tried calling the BA Mexico line and they told me that they couldn’t help me since I was US based account?

  • BobChi

    It’s something to try. I was on hold for 7 hours trying to reach United (3 hours, then cut off; 3 hours then cut off; one hour). How can they run a business like that?

  • extrapackofpeanuts

    After sitting on hold with United for 2 hours on Saturday and getting no where, I tried the Australian line today. Waited for 15 minutes and still didn’t get through to anyone, so I just hung up. I don’t know how long it would have taken, but it certainly wasn’t in the first 5 minutes, as Gary’s reader pointed out. Just a data point to be aware of, so as always, YMMV.

    As for using skype, not all the international numbers are toll-free. Calling from Skype, I was paying 12 cents a minute to try to get through to United.

    Certainly something to try, but it won’t always work.

  • TravelShooter

    Do airlines have “live” chat function?

  • Rob Perelman

    TPG, have you tried the app FastCustomer?

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  • http://www.startrakx.com/ Alain

    Just brilliant! I love it :)

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  • Jo Geltman

    Once again this could all be avoided with a great travel agent. I’m not promoting myself or anyone else here, but top agents have access to priority numbers that are not available to the general public. Assuming your time is worth money, it is so worth the nominal feel that agents charge, particularly since the airlines charge fees as well, to let someone else work out these annoying details and resolve all these problem issues that inevitably come up along the way. In addition we are often able to obtain excess baggage waivers that you are unable to obtain on your own.

  • William Reading

    I take that they haven’t changed the policy on BA call centers? I tried calling the London office not that long ago and they redirected me over to the USA office.

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