Which Airlines Are the Worst to Deal With By Phone?

When American Express runs a transfer bonus for moving points to Aeromexico, and folks start paying attention to their award charts (which can be generous even without the bonus) I shrug. The last thing I want is Aeromexico points, since that means I’m going to have to deal with the fine folks at Aeromexico Club Premier. You can’t book partner awards online. That means talking to their call center.

Thinking about what call centers are the worst, it’s actually tough because each airline with frustrating call centers is frustrating in different ways. They’re just tough to compare.

  • Delta agents tend not to know who their partners are, and I’ve had them try to book awards into the wrong class. (I’ve also been told “Vietnam Airlines isn’t a member of Skyteam. Only Air France is a member of Skyteam.”)
  • Avianca’s LifeMiles is really bad on the phone — but I don’t mind as much because the website is decent for making an initial award booking (although you don’t get to pick and choose from all possible flight options) and email has been a good way to communicate with them when changes need to be made.. if you can wait a day to hear back.
  • Virgin Atlantic is rough for partner booking. You can’t do partner awards on their website, and every time I speak to their agents it’s like they’ve never searched for a partner award before (or at least, never successfully!).
  • The Turkish Airlines phone connections are just awful, and bad phone lines coupled with heavy accents are a huge challenge.
  • British Airways has a bunch of ornery unhelpful phone agents.
  • Flying Blue is just surreal. I’ve been hung up on many times. I get different answers from different agents. They have bureaucratic processes — and when something doesn’t go right, they want to send you to the airport to complete your transaction – I think just to get rid of you. Naturally the airport has no idea what to do for you.
  • US Airways agents were always clueless about rules and geography, which had its pluses and minuses (legacy America West agents who spent years without partners flying US – Asia). They know even less now that they’re in oneworld, and their systems routinely have difficulty ‘seeing’ award space being offered especially by Japan Airlines.

Which airlines do you dread speaking with the most?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I recently had a really good experience with delta doing a China eastern booking from MEL-PVG. To be fair I took the advice of you and others to build a rapport and know exactly what flights I was asking for. It all went smoothly, even my skymiles account being locked out for some security reason didn’t phase her. She held the tickets, passed me to the right person to sort out the problem who was then able to issue the tickets.

    Maybe I got lucky but it was a thoroughly good experience from end to end.

  2. Iberia.

    If anyone has had a good experience, please tell me which rep to talk to, because they’re the only one…

  3. You may already have this in mind, but I would love to see a companion post on the airlines with the best phone agents.

  4. FWIW, I was pleasantly surprised last year as a no-status flyer with UA, trying to upgrade a pair of coach to business class TATL seats. For the most part, the UA agents were courteous and helpful, although it was at times difficult to reach them by phone, using the automated UA phone system.
    If we want to examine the other end of the scle, WN telephone agents are a national treasure!

  5. You forgot Aegean airlines. It’s impossible to book an award ticket on their website, you need to call them during the office hours in Greece. And when you have somebody on the phone and try to book an award ticket, they want to charge higher taxes than thru United for insurance and it’s impossible to explain them.

  6. Air Canada. The worst. Had to deal with them as operating carrier for a United codeshare last year and no matter what day or time of day I called, there was a 45-60 minute wait. (Aside: at a certain point it became clear that management had made a choice to provide that level of telephone service.) Eventually I submit to Canadian phone torture, get through, and the surly phone rep claims that they (operating carrier) can’t make seat assignments. On their own flight. Oh, FFS…

  7. On a positive note, gotta agree with the WN comment – had a complicated issue with them that took multiple people to work through once and they were all enjoyable and competent? When does that happen? I mean, I was patient and nice as well but I start that way 99% of the time. Only got the enjoyable and competent in return with them so far…

  8. Turkish Airlines: Terrible.

    What do you mean you can’t give me a seat assignment because I’m on a FFP reward ticket. Totally ridiculous and unbelievable.

  9. My experience with BA differs. I’ve only had to talk to them about 3 times but those 3 times have been great. And the music, at least the initial one, is so peaceful that it makes you think you’re in a tranquil spa.

  10. SQ call centers are terrible. Agents are rude and refuse to listen and help. Infact they make you feel as if they are doing you a favor. Have had the same experience multiple times. So cant even attribute this to one off experience.

  11. Also had a great (first) experience calling BA to redeem Avios for an AS flight. Despite a promised hold time “over 30 minutes” it only took about 10-15 for them to answer mid-day on a Monday. The rep was courteous, and didn’t even mention a phone booking fee.. I was all prepared with my speech to fight it but no need. Quick and easy. Though I suppose there are exceptions to every rule.. apparently I found one.

  12. US Airways agents being bad is a good thing though for most of us booking miles awards, just saying.

    Lifemiles agents usually at least try to do their best despite their bad system and language barriers.

    United 1k and premier line agents good – but some of their non premier line agents clueless about many things.

    AA agents again good with premier line training – but even then sometimes i have to nudge them that during IRROPS, they have the power to rebook AA flights booked originally from BA miles. had to talk to supervisor each time to then instruct the front line agent its okay to rebook BA tickets during IRROPS. ugh.

  13. I’ve had the opposite with BA and using the travel together voucher. Willing to help even for holiday travel etc.

  14. I’ve had the most rude agents on the BA YouFirst and Quintessentially lines. Once I called at 7:30 ET (which was 30 minutes before close) and the agent refused to do anything saying it was too late and to call in the morning. That kind of service for a First passenger is ridiculous.

    That said, the regular BA agents haven’t been too bad.

  15. Virgin Atlantic phone reps are either in the home, in a sweat closet, or are in an opened space using a speaker phone.

    The only best use is transferring Virgin miles to another program — never had a problem with that.

    But what I do know, is Sir Richard Branson has become a great entrepreneur to a Silicon Valley kiss-fraud. He should drop Virgin Galactic — a waste of money, a joke. Had he uses all that “research” to bring back the Concorde, he’d have a fleet of 25 SSTs now.

  16. I don’t like speaking with phone representatives at all, not only because of the likely difficulties, but also the hold times. The relative ability to book online is something I definitely take into account in valuing points.

  17. A couple weeks back I called singapore to try to change a flight to one a few hours earlier on a Suites award. The website showed availability but wanted me to call and the two people I talked to were clueless and not particularly courteous. I’ve only had issues with United once or twice out of the 50-100 times I’ve called in

  18. I really hate UA’s outsource call center. They dont seem to understand the difference between Washington and Washington DC.

    BA’s agents are always friendly and professional, too bad there are always 1hour plus wait times.

  19. British Air is the worst. EVERY time I’ve had to call BA they have been “experiencing unusual call volume” and I’ve been on hold for 20 minutes to an hour. I had to call several times because I made a mistake when I added my husband to our household membership – entered his DOB wrong. That was a nightmare to correct; first agent was rude and unable to fix the problem. After 2 or 3 calls (each with a long wait) we finally got it fixed. Booking Avios on partner airlines also requires a phone call with another endless wait. The agent who finally answered was civil and competent, but I was not happy with the wait time. If they don’t have enough agents to handle these transactions, why not allow it to be done online??

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