Double trouble

by Christopher Elliott on March 30, 2006

Q: Alaska Airlines recently announced a new partnership with Air France and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and is offering double-mileage credit for flights booked on either airline before April 30. A footnote to the promotion indicated that certain classes of service on Air France and KLM do not qualify.

I was interested in booking an Air France flight, but I could not determine what the service codes meant. So I called Alaska Airlines to ask about the restrictions. After waiting on hold for 30 minutes, I was told to ask Air France about the codes. So I called Air France. After waiting on hold for 20 minutes, an Air France representative told me, “That’s Alaska’s promotion. We can’t tell you what their restrictions are.”

I called Alaska again. I waited on hold for another 20 minutes, then was transferred to the reservations desk, where I was told, “Those codes were given to us by Air France. They are Air France restrictions.”

“But I just called Air France,” I said. “I described the codes and they didn’t know what I was talking about.”

I realized that this person was not going to be able to help me, so I hung up, called Alaska again, and got someone else. This agent speculated that the codes might refer to certain bargain fares, but she didn’t know for sure what the codes were, so she transferred me to another desk, and I waited on hold for a long time.

Eventually I got someone at Alaska’s international desk who listened to my story, then transferred me to another desk! It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating and if the final answer wasn’t “No” — because, as it turns out, none of the flights I would be interested in fall within the permitted codes.

Isn’t Alaska’s promotion a classic bait-and-switch? And isn’t that illegal?

– Victoria Pond, Seattle

A: Unclear? Definitely. Illegal? Well, I don’t know about that.

My guess, even before I contacted Alaska Airlines, was that this promotion was so new that the reservations agents didn’t fully understand it yet. In my experience, few mileage promotions are bait-and-switches; instead, there carry so many restrictions that it is nearly impossible to qualify for them.

Look at any ad for a double-mileage deal or a mileage credit card, and you’ll notice that little star referring you to the fine print at the bottom of the page. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?

A call to Alaska Airlines confirmed my suspicions. An airline spokeswoman, Amanda Tobin, insisted the deal is on the up-and-up. “Unfortunately, because the partnership is so new, the agents helping Victoria seemed to not be as familiar as they should have been with the promotion,” she told me.

Tobin said Alaska Airlines has already provided “additional training on this topic” to its reservations agents to prevent this problem from recurring.

The next time you run into a mileage problem — and are getting the runaround — ask to speak with a supervisor. A supervisor has the authority (and often, the knowledge) to help you make a reservation that qualifies for a particular promotion.

You might also want to share your question on a frequent-flier forum like Frequentflier.com or Flyertalk.com — there, you’ll find other frequent travelers who might be able to offer helpful tips on how to qualify for a promotion.

An Alaska Airlines representative contacted you and straightened out the rules of the new promotion. By your account, the information you were given on the phone was completely inaccurate. You easily qualified for the promotion and ended up making a reservation on Air France.

To make up for the trouble, Alaska Airlines credited you with an additional 5,000 miles.

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