I saved hours on hold by calling the airline’s foreign call center

Apr 29, 2020

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Maximillian, who was able to get in contact with an airline faster by thinking outside the box:

I have a helpful hint for anyone who really needs to contact an airline by phone right now: instead of calling the main U.S. hotline number you can use Skype to call one of the foreign offices for a fair price.

Today I wanted to ask about a flight change for a trip in three days but was put on hold on the United line for “approximately more than two hours.“ I’m currently traveling in Australia and didn’t have time to wait so I looked up the German number. Halfway around the world the German office was still open at 3 a.m. local time. Expecting to speak to someone German I was put on another hold with the option to switch to an English agent for faster processing. Of course I switched but still expected a wait. Nope, after two (!) minutes of initially calling I was speaking to an agent. Of course if you can rebook online just do that, to keep the wait times shorter.

You can look up foreign offices for any airline online on their website. Most of them aren’t 24/7 so you also need to look at the opening times and of course possible time differences. I guess all foreign offices have the option to talk to somebody in English so the language isn’t really an issue. Using Skype from Australia to Germany had a noticeable time lag though, so maybe try geographically closer offices first.

On a different note, this might also apply if you want to redeem miles via phone. The (English speaking) Asiana Office in Frankfurt was very competent without any wait, while I heard different things from the U.S. hotline.

We’re in this all together, so hopefully this situation will be over soon. To anybody flying the next days: stay Safe!

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As the coronavirus continues to cause unprecedented travel disruptions, contacting an airline about a change or cancellation is becoming a bit of a nightmare. Maximillian is right that if you can take care of the trip yourself online (which many airlines are now allowing) you should do that, and for simple requests you can also try messaging the airline on Twitter to avoid waiting on hold and clogging up the phone lines.

Related: How to quickly reach an airline customer service agent

If you have to call, you might be able to skip much of the waiting time and still get helped in English if you reach out to a foreign call center instead. This can also be a great trick to use if you’re trying to book new travel, with two specific examples that jump to mind. Even though Etihad isn’t a member of any of the major alliances, they have a partnership with American Airlines that includes reciprocal mileage redemptions. American Airlines phone agents at the U.S. call centers can’t always see all the Etihad award space, so a popular workaround is to call one of AA’s Australian call centers to book the ticket.

I was also able to use this trick to score some amazing awards on the very first day that Marriott closed its SPG merger and launched the new loyalty program (even before the Bonvoy name came along). The U.S. call centers had multi-hour wait times and the agents were locked out of the award reservation system for much of that first day, but I spoke to a friendly agent in the Malaysian office who was able to book me everything I wanted before the dust had settled.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! Please email your own award travel success stories to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes; due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by filadendron/Getty Images

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