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Because I’m not a top-tier elite with every single airline, if there was a severe storm, air traffic control disruption or simply busy summer travel time, I used to prepare myself for phone calls to the airline with a cup of coffee and a browser full of airline award charts to kill the time. In the past, if it was peak evening hours or I heard warnings of 45-minute wait times, I may have just given up altogether. Fortunately, I’ve picked up some tricks to get through to a human being on the other end.

Today, I want to share some strategies for quickly reaching a live agent at the major US airlines.

In This Post

General Tips

Here are some things to keep in mind regardless of which airline you’re calling:

Voice recognition systems are (unfortunately) becoming more common. Instead of selecting a number for a given option, you’re requested to describe what you’re calling about. Trying to skip these automated menus by saying “agent” (or any other response) often makes your call longer. Slowly and clearly speak a general sentence about why you’re calling so you can properly be placed in a queue.

Avoid calling on the go unless absolutely necessary. You don’t want to be three-fourths of the way through a complicated story to either lose the call or have a phone agent miss the majority of what you’re saying. This also applies when you’re calling from overseas on a VoIP app — make sure your connection is solid and your phone battery is charged.

Politeness wins the day. Take a deep breath and imagine yourself on the other side of the phone. The majority of us who call airlines aren’t doing so for pleasant reasons, but it helps to be levelheaded and respectful. I’ve had amazing support from phone reps as a result of being pleasant and polite — and saying two magical words: Thank you.

When in doubt, say “existing reservation.” Most of the time, I say I’m calling about an existing reservation instead of making a new reservation, even if I don’t have an existing reservation. I don’t have any real explanation for this, but it allows me to reach an agent faster than being put in the new reservations queue. I do it almost every time and seem to come out ahead over the rare times I forget.

Make sure, if prompted, to enter you frequent flyer number. Whether you have status or not, being a frequent flyer member can only help to reach an agent faster. I know when calling ANA from Japan, I reach an airline agent almost instantly when I enter my ANA Mileage Club number. This doesn’t apply across the board, but entering (or speaking) your number certainly doesn’t hurt.

If your award itinerary is even the least bit complicated or with a foreign program, a phone call is in your future. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

With the general tips covered, let’s review each major US carrier and how to reach a phone agent the quickest:

Alaska

Best Number: 1-800-654-5669

Enter your Mileage Plan number and then select existing reservation. There isn’t much else you can do to reach an agent quickly with Alaska during high call volumes without elite status, other than what is listed below.

American

Best Number: 1-800-882-8880

Speak your AAdvantage number slowly and clearly to start the call. After being greeted by name, say “reservation,” then “existing reservation,” and then “travel changes.” Next, I say “I don’t have it” when prompted for a confirmation number if I don’t yet have a reservation. You’re next asked if all flights are in the US and then you’re transferred to an agent. American is great about giving you an idea of how long your hold time is when it asks if you’d like to be called back. If it’s still going to be a long hold, enter your phone number and an agent will give you a call back, usually right in the estimated window.

Delta

Best Number: 1-800-323-2323

Say “existing reservation,” and then key in your SkyMiles number. If you don’t have a reservation, say “I don’t have it,” and you’ll be transferred to an agent. Like with American, you’ll then be given the option to receive a call back instead of waiting on hold.

JetBlue

Best Number: 1-800-538-2583

Select option two for reservations and two again to signal an existing reservation, that’s it! You’ll be put in a queue and given an estimated wait time. If that wait time is unbearable, see below for alternate routes to speak with an agent.

Southwest

Best Number: 1-800-435-9792

Unlike with other airlines, you don’t call the Rapid Rewards customer service number. Call the reservations number listed here, and then select option three followed by option one or two for domestic/Puerto Rico or international travel. You’ll then be transferred to an agent.

Spirit

Best Number: 1-801-401-2222

I included Spirit here because it’s worth noting that 801 is not another subset of free 1-800 numbers. It’s a toll number, and it could cost you to make a call to the airline. (Did you really expect anything less when dealing with America’s one true low-cost carrier?) Select option three for changes to an existing reservation. You now have a unique option to start texting Spirit if you don’t want to wait on hold. You select option one after selecting option three in the first step and you will get a text to start texting to fix your issue:

That said, in unusual situations such as hurricanes, Spirit has been known to tweet out additional numbers that are sometimes 1-800 numbers. The airline is currently using 1-800-772-7117 for Hurricane Dorian.

United

Best Number: 1-800-421-4655

Say “reservations,” and then “existing” for help with an existing reservation, followed by speaking your MileagePlus number. If you don’t have an existing reservation, say “continue” to skip looking up a confirmation number. If you have one, simply speak your six-character PNR. If you don’t have a reservation, you’ll then be prompted on how you’d like to look up your reservation. Here I say “agent” twice and then I am asked whether my flights are all within the US. I answer yes or no depending on my itinerary and I usually reach an agent shortly thereafter.

Advanced Options

Fast Customer

Maybe the most undervalued and least talked-about strategy for reaching live agents at almost any company is one of my favorite apps: FastCustomer. Simply select one of the hundreds of companies the app supports and then choose which department you’d like to speak with. The app automates the dialing and wait process and calls your phone when it’s time to speak with a live agent. It’s a brilliant concept that allows you to continue living your life until the phone rings. I use it when my normal call strategies aren’t succeeding or during peak hours or large storms.

The FastCustomer App has been a tremendous tool that saves me time and increases my efficiency.
The FastCustomer app has been a tremendous tool that saves me time and increases my efficiency.

Use Twitter

Another solid option is utilizing Twitter. The social media teams for many hotel and airline companies have some of the most competent and responsive customer service reps I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve canceled, changed and rebooked award and revenue tickets on Twitter, in addition to selecting seats, asking complicated questions about award redemptions and even changing a routing for free. When in doubt, shoot a tweet or direct message to handles like @Delta and @United, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your experience. (Just don’t publicly tweet your confirmation number or similar — save that for direct messaging.)

Call a Foreign Call Center

Dialing a foreign call center is also a great strategy for reaching agents in a more reasonable amount of time. This requires an app like Skype, Talkatone, Viber or Google Voice to make the calls affordable. Some of my go-to call centers are Singapore (+65 6823 2095) and Hong Kong (+852 3002 1208) for British Airways, the Japan call center (+81 3 3298 4719) for Etihad Airways, the Australia call center (+61 02-9101-1948 ) for American and the Japan call center (+81 0570-077733) for Delta. Just remember to add or take away the necessary zeros before the phone number if you’re calling from the US.

Use the Spanish Line

My final tip, in a case of desperation, is to head for the foreign-speaking agents for US airlines, who will also speak English. If all else fails and you have the option to push 2 for Spanish, go ahead and head that way to get quick help when the English line is backed up.

Bottom Line

Of course, elite members of an airline’s frequent flyer program usually have access to different phone numbers and can enjoy shorter wait times and potentially better service. That said, not everyone has elite status and during peak times, even elites may also be faced with a lengthy queue, so these tips can really come in handy for anyone.

What is the fastest way you know of to reach an airline agent?

Featured image by Darren Murph/The Points Guy

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