The Frustrations That Happen While Booking Award Travel
I recently planned what I thought would be a simple trip. It turned out to be anything but easy when it was all said and done. I will go through the steps with you and hopefully you can find some joy in my misery. Sometimes we love making the least complicated things difficult. Knowledge isn’t always power it seems!
The plan was simple, a quick weekend trip to St. John’s Newfoundland. Myself and a buddy were going to fly up early on a Friday morning and come back Sunday. We would probably only get a day and a half on the ground but it is a location I had been wanting to check out for a while.
St. John’s looks a whole lot like Ireland. It has the cliffs, the ocean, picturesque lighthouses, and hiking trails. It even has the Irish pubs that of course have live music and serve fish and chips to go along with it. A friend told me it is the most Irish place not in Ireland. I really enjoyed my time in Ireland so I thought this was worth checking out.
Air Canada had a flight leaving from Detroit that connects in Toronto, easy peasy. Total flight time came in right around 6 hours including the layover. Air Canada is a Star Alliance partner so I told my buddy to book it on United for a mere 25,000 miles and $65 in taxes and fees. This was a $700 cash ticket so excellent value, especially in economy.
I of course did not follow this simple booking, at least not at first, and that is when things went off the rails.
Why I Had To Complicate Things
I could have easily booked the trip with United miles but I wanted to save my Ultimate Rewards points. Even though I profess always using miles, I like to use my UR points last. My reasoning is two fold. The first reason is that they are harder to earn because the 5/24 rule and the lack of welcome offers I am able to get. The second reason is that they have a true cash value of 1 cent a piece so I think of them as an emergency savings account too. If I were ever in a big bind or had a huge unexpected bill come my way I could easily turn them into cash. That adds a level of security should something tragic happen.
So now you know why I didn’t go the easy route and book the flight with United. I decided to use the Star Alliance program to my advantage and focused on Citi ThankYou points. I had just padded my stash with 60,000 points from the Citi ThankYou Premier card. ThankYou points are the least valuable currency in my opinion so I look to use them first when I can.
This left me with a few options, mainly LifeMiles and KrisFlyer miles. If you are ever wondering which miles you can use for your flights just go to AwardHacker and select the flights and specify which points you want to use. It is one of my favorite travel booking tools.
I had decided to go with LifeMiles because the transfer times were quicker and my buddy had already booked his flight. I didn’t want the award space to disappear while waiting on a transfer. That is when the trouble started.
Transferring to LifeMiles
So I went to LifeMiles to get my frequent flyer number so that I could transfer my ThankYou points in. I usually save my logins so that it is easy to get in and out of accounts. The problem was my LM account didn’t save. I searched my email for my frequent flyer number but the first email they sent when I set up the account had a disappearing number. I guess once you click through the link the number goes away.
No problem, I will just go through the find my account steps on their website. Pretty much any place lets you do this fairly easily. Not LifeMiles though you need your FF number to be able to perform the find account option. Great!
So I called LifeMiles to get my number and after a 10 or so minute hold I spoke with an English speaking representative. I gave him all of my info and went through the hoops and then he asked me for my pin. I attempted it 2 times but I don’t think I ever went through the steps to ever fully set up the account. That means I never actually set up a pin. LifeMiles policy is to not give you your number without your pin. For some reason they can’t email it to the account on file or confirm your identity some other way. He said I would need to email a whole list of things to their customer service department, like a copy of my passport, address, pictures of my first born child etc. (that last part was a joke). Suffice to say it was way to much “proof” in my opinion and I didn’t have the time to wait on a response.
That is when Citi’s ThankYou program came into play.
Transferring Citi ThankYou Points
The work around to not having an account was to set up my wife with a LifeMiles account and transfer ThankYou points to her account to book the flight. Easy enough and it would be quicker than waiting on customer service to email me my frequent flyer upon confirming my DNA results.
Setting up her LifeMiles account was not without issues because well it is LifeMiles. I kept getting errors the entire time and every login username I tried came back as used. This was an error since I got to the point of trying dasglpo3093lk234 and still nothing! Finally after pounding my keyboard over and over again it accepted a username.
So I then went back to Citi to perform the transfer to LifeMiles. I attempted the transfer 3 different times and got an error each time. I was boiling over at this point and called Citi to have them do it for me. Once I got on the phone the automated system told me she had 0 points in the account. I hung up and checked my wife’s LifeMiles account and there sat 25,000 miles. Somehow they made it through the constant errors.
via GIPHY (What I Wanted To Do)
Booking the Flight
After all that I finally had the miles where they needed to go and I could get this flight booked. I plugged in all of the necessary info, selected my flights and then hit enter. Wouldn’t you know it another effin error screen!?!?!?! I tried it several times and every time I selected my flights I would get an error.
Errors and LifeMiles go hand in hand but errors usually occur when submitting payment. I picked up the phone and called LifeMiles again. They asked me where I lived and upon telling them they said there is a malfunction on the site and to try again later. I tried later and the next day but had no luck.
Funny enough if I selected a United flight in the US etc. the booking would go through with no issue but Air Canada and LifeMiles were not on speaking terms it seems. Now at this point you can email their customer service with all the booking info, along with the name of your unborn child or something stupid like that, and they will book it for you. I simply didn’t have the time to wait on this. I had lost my patience and I didn’t want the award space to vanish.
Once again I picked up my lifeline to the LifeMiles customer service department to attempt to book a flight for myself using my wife’s account. I am sure they were going to tell me she needed to call them. I would have rather walked through fire then attempt that discussion! So after 30 minutes on hold I hung up, chucked my phone across the room, and booked the damn flight with United miles.
What can we learn from this, outside of the fact that LifeMiles has a sole sucking, time eating, horrid system? That sometimes simplicity is best even if it costs a little more.
Now I am stuck with 25,000 miles in a program I despise that has a terrible 12 month expiration policy. I will have to try to use them on an airline I hate, United, or maybe take a trip on Lufthansa just because etc. I will find a way to use them I am sure but I hate having something I don’t really want and I will stress about using the miles until they are gone. Looking at you too Wyndham!
Just in case you were wondering I tried to plead with Citi to reverse the transfer since the partner’s system was not working properly. I got a “pound sand” response. The kicker is that I had to actually call back in to get their response since they never called me back to tell me. This is right before her annual fee is due…I bet you can guess where that decision is leaning! Also I checked the award space a day after I booked and one of the flights were gone so I don’t regret the decision to go ahead with United. I probably took the last spot but better safe than sorry.
Has anyone had a similar experience booking a trip? Share your misery below…make me feel better!