How to Get Around Long Hold Times When Calling Airlines

Mar 12, 2012

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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
British Airways
US Airways

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