Airline Booking Agent Tells All In Online Q&A

delta planeThere are entire websites and forums dedicated to maximizing your travel miles and getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to purchasing airline tickets. But rarely do we hear from those behind the reservations desk … until now.

Over on Reddit there’s an ongoing Q & A with “TravelAuthority,” a reservations agent for airlines like Delta, Air France and KLM. We’re sharing some of our favorite questions and answers from the thread. He shares that his Twitter handle is @Jackson_Dai and identifies himself there as the “world’s best Delta Skymiles booking agent.” He says he flies 200,000+ miles per year.

“Ask me anything about working for an airline, the flight benefits, using miles, earning miles, avoiding stupid airline fees, low fares, partner airlines, Skyteam vs Oneworld vs Star Alliance or anything really,” he challenged readers. So far, the thread has more than 1,300 comments.

Note, quotes are taken verbatim.

Q. Any general advice? Like the best time to shop for a fare, the best agency or website, how far in advance to book…
A. Best website: Bing.com/travel - the fare predictor is pure genius. Not even Delta agents have access to that information. A close second would be Skyscanner. In general you want to book 6 weeks to 12 weeks in advance. Any earlier and the flights won’t be on sale, any later and the others will have already snapped up all the low fares. Award tickets are another animal though.

Q. What is the fastest way to rack up miles? Credit Cards? Special promos or secret deals?
A. Credit Cards are the best. Some people run their businesses off their credit cards and rack up millions of miles pretty easily. Suntrust Bank also has a checking account with a Skymiles debit card. That account is nice because the electronic bill pay also earns miles. So you can pay your rent/mortgage via bill pay and get miles for it. And if the person or org you’re paying doesn’t accept electronic payments it mails them a check.

Q. I’m 6’6″. I’m flying back from Shanghai to DTW in a few weeks. Can you help me figure out the best way to get a seat with legroom? In general I arrive at the gate early to see if I can find my way into a better seat. Is there anything else I could do?
A. Go with Economy Comfort or Exit Row. That may cost you a bit though. Also take a look on Seatguru.com to determine witch seats have the most legroom. Unethically, you could call the reservations agents and say you have a medical disability that requires a bulkhead seat (you don’t have to state exactly what it is and Delta agents are forbidden to ask).

Q. … any tips on how to get any freebies/upgrades/benefits?
A. Yes, after your flight you should call or email (preferably the later) and let them know about every single thing you didn’t enjoy about your flight (food, movie selection, rude flight attendant, tray table didn’t work, Wi-Fi didn’t work etc.). The airlines have a specific department to deal with complaints and they’ll give you tens of thousands of miles, free business lounge passes, travel vouchers, drink tickets, etc.Q. … any special “tips” for international flights and getting the lowest fare? Does it even help if you book super far in advance? (+6 months)
A. Unless you’re booking business/first class, booking super far in advance is always a bad move. Airlines charge higher fares for those reservations. It’s just like in the tech world where the early adopters pay more. What kind of “tips”? Ethical or Unethical? I have lots of both. There are lots of unethical ones like booking child fares for adults to get 10-20% off or using bereavement/medical exemptions to get cheaper last minute fares or to get agents to waive change fees. Delta/AirFrance/KLM require a bit of info such as a hospital name, address, and phone number for a medical fare but they NEVER call to check up on it so I’m surprised more people don’t just lie about it.

Q. What qualifications do you need to be a reservation agent?
A. They prefer 2 years of sales or call center experience. Nothing other than that. Well, you do have to pass an incredibly thorough FBI background check but that’s all.

Q. Would this be a viable career for someone with a family?
A. Yes, definitely. The average age of the reservations agents and flight attendants in pre-merger Northwest cities (Minneapolis, Detroit, Seattle etc.) is probably 45 or higher so most of them have families. The hours are super flexible, the health benefits are decent, the pay is solid, and your spouse, parents, and kids fly free.

Q. Wow, everyone flies free? That is such a great deal. I need to look in to this. What airline is the best employer?
A. If you’re in the US it’s Southwest Airlines. No Question. Highest pay, best benefits, best management. Delta or United/Continental will offer better flight benefits because of their larger network but that’s about it.

Q. Is it possible to work for Star Alliance in general and then get flights all over their network? Is that what happens when you work with United or continental?
A. Flights on other airlines are heavily discounted (75-90%+) but not free. Actually, most airlines extend those heavily discounted travel tickets to employees of competing airlines too. For instance, Delta employees get 90% off tickets on United, British Airlines, Finnair, JetBlue, US Air, Alaska, Hawaiian, Japan Airlines, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Airlines etc.

Q. I have a United Mileage plus rewards program. How would you rate it?
A. United’s program is really good for award redemption, much better than Delta actually. Delta’s program is better for complimentary upgrades and accruing miles.
Q. Another question, about how to send in complaints.

A. Did you use the comment/complaint form on Delta.com? Or did you mail in a letter? If you send in an email it should have the words “Platinum” or “Diamond” in the text somewhere (e.g. “I’m not yet a Diamond Medallion but…”). The system will flag your email and give it higher priority because it tries to pick out the complaints from “high value” customers and move them to the front of the queue. It’s unethical but it helps. If you call again make sure you talk to a supervisor. Updated: Better yet. Call the customer care dept. 404-773-0305 At the first prompt use option 1 if you have a Skymiles account and option 2 if you don’t. At the second prompt use option #7 to get to an agent.

[Flickr via simon_sees]