You said you wanted to hear more tales from our experiences at Cranky Concierge, so here I am with another round. I’ve written here at length about American’s big sales transformation where it slashed sales staff, limited agency flexibility, and forced agents to use NDC even though it wasn’t ready for primetime. (If you need the backstory, read this first.) How’s it going, you ask? Not great.
And I have to admit that today’s post is a little self-serving, because I just feel the need to vent out my frustration… and the frustration of my entire team. It has been incredibly aggravating for all of us to deal with American’s shenanigans, and we’ve all felt exhausted and defeated. Here’s a Slack message someone sent to me last week. It’s a common sentiment.
So today, I present you a play in four parts. Some of these problems are due to NDC, some are just due to strict policies. But it gives you a sense of how American is operating today.
Act 1 – You want premium economy to Asia? Too bad.
American rolled out NDC in the domestic market and throughout the Americas pretty early on, but it has held off on making the move over the Atlantic and Pacific. I assumed this was due to its joint venture partners not willing to be so reckless, but some fares are quietly creeping in. Now, Basic Economy fares can’t be booked through traditional channels in those markets, and, strangely, neither can the lowest premium economy fares. Other fare types don’t seem to be touched.
This is mind-bogglingly dumb for American to tie one hand behind its back in Asia considering how weak the airline is there compared to everyone else, but apparently that doesn’t matter. Why is it so stupid? We had a client that needed to fly from St Louis to Osaka, a place American does not fly but its joint venture partner Japan Airlines does.
After much searching and failing, we could not match the lowest fares found on AA.com for this route. Why? Well, it’s because using American’s NDC connection, you cannot sell interline tickets. And American does not codeshare on every single JAL flight.
The options our client wanted to take involved a flight from Osaka back to Tokyo on JAL before connecting to American over to the US. That flight had no American code, so it was nowhere to be found in NDC. We could do it using traditional channels, but the cheaper fares had been removed from those channels, so it wasn’t an option.
What’s even more incredible is that this option didn’t even show on AA.com itself. The only way it could be found was by using Google Flights and then clicking on the link to go direct to AA.com.
We spent far too long trying to figure out how to book this, and eventually we had no choice but to use Google Flights and book the client directly. There was no other way.
Act 2 – How much will it cost to change? It depends on who you ask.
One of the remarkably frustrating things about American forcing this change so early is that the largest agency booking system in the US, Sabre, is not ready. Specifically, it cannot currently support changes to any NDC-booked reservation if there is more than one person on it. It can, however, take bookings for itineraries with more than one person, so you can imagine how well this goes.
We had two people on one reservation who needed to change their flight, so we called American and asked. We were quoted a price, got client approval, and then called back. The price was completely different. These weren’t small swings. It ranged from a few dollars to $1,000 a person, and the agents were shockingly uncaring about the situation.
It took someone on our team 3 hours (and probably shortened her life by a couple of years) to get back to the original quoted price after calling multiple times to find someone who knew how to handle this. That person admitted that yes, most people on the support desk don’t even know how to deal with these NDC bookings.
Act 3 – Technical error? There’s a fee for that.
We had another client who needed to cancel her reservation and hold the value of her ticket for future use. No problem, right? Of course it was a problem, because the ticket was booked using NDC.
For some unknown reason, the ticket was not showing up in our NDC-enabled system at all even though that’s how the ticket was originally issued. The ticket did show as valid and good to go on AA.com, however. That would have been ok if the traveler wanted to travel, but she didn’t. So… what to do?
We went to AA.com to cancel the reservation and it errored, saying we had to talk to our travel agent. After taking AA’s advice and talking to ourselves about it, we still couldn’t solve the problem. So we called sales support for help, and what did they tell us? They’d be happy to cancel the reservation, but we would have to go through them to use the credit when the time came and there would be a $50 fee for the privilege.
Act 4 – No ADMs! Just kidding.
American likes to tout that by using NDC, you can’t do things against the rules and shouldn’t get hit with big agency debit memos anymore. These are the bills airlines send agencies when the agencies do something wrong, and they are feared and hated by all. So, this would be welcome news, but that doesn’t mean the system isn’t designed to do stupid things that will cost the agency money anyway.
We had another person who needed to cancel a ticket and hold a credit, so we followed what we thought were the correct instructions by clicking on the “Cancel ticket/EMD” link and NOT the “Refund ticket” link since we weren’t refunding. Apparently, what we needed to do was in a totally different path (great job, Sabre), but the way NDC works is just different than traditional channels, so mistakes aren’t surprising in the early days.
After clicking on the Cancel ticket path, the wording was somewhat confusing, saying that the total refund was $0.00, but that’s what we expected, no refund. We clicked “Cancel ticket” and that’s when we found out this was the wrong way to do it. Instead, when you click that, it processes a refund for $0.
Now, let’s just think about that. Why would anyone request a ticket refund if there is no money to come back? You wouldn’t. It’s stupid. This should not even exist as an option, but it does. And it now showed the ticket as refunded so the value couldn’t be used.
This is unquestionably partially a Sabre issue since it is displaying things in ways that aren’t clear, so yes, booo Sabre. But you would think that American would be helpful in trying to assist agencies that are trying to use NDC and get hung up with some of the different processes. You would be wrong.
When we called American asking them if they could reinstate the ticket so we could use it for the future, they said they would… if we paid them a $100 fee. That was more than half the value of the ticket in the first place.
It has now gotten to the point where every time we book American, we feel dread. We’ve had problems with Delta and United reservations and tickets before, and they are willing to work with us to make it right. American seems to have completely abandoned the idea that there is any value in grace and assistance. It is maddening.
As frustrating as it is, there is a very small silver lining. This kind of behavior arms us with examples that make it easier for us to explain to customers why they should book a different airline. Just this week a customer opted to book Southwest one way and United the other over American on a trip after I explained why it was beneficial. At least that brought a small smile to my face in an otherwise miserable situation.