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

Apr 29, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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!

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.