Wanting to go to Paris with my partner in crime this fall, I thought I could use my miles in order to book a ticket for her. Back in 2010, when working at the European Space Agency, I traveled a lot for professional reasons. At that time, I was single and enrolled into a loyalty program because my co-worker told me that “I have to” (by the way, thanks dudes!) and accumulated miles without paying attention … until now! This was time to take advantage of it!
As a french guy, I used the Air France loyalty program called “Flying Blue“. Long story short: you accumulate miles each time you flight. As with the Smurfs, there are several levels that give you different advantages. I never really understood all the benefits but so far, I understood that I can have a great discount on a flight ticket. So, let’s book!
User-Friendly user messages
Let’s start the booking!
I started to look at the potential options on May, 23 2014. I searched for a plane ticket from my lovely Pittsburgh to Paris. Dates were flexible and I tried to have a look at the different options. I found a ticket that uses all my miles and required an additional payment of 15 euros for both. Deal! I started to book the ticket. For the inbound flight, I got a ticket from Pittsburgh to Paris via Atlanta for 25000 miles and 15 euros. Then, for the outbound, it proposed me a date, but, when validating, it reported that the dates were not available and it was impossible to book the ticket. So, why the system proposed them?
In between, I continued to use the website and I experienced random errors, error messages that look more than debug information that a real production environment. So, in order to finish the booking process, I contacted the customer support by e-mail. They told me that the dates were not available. So, again, why the internet platform proposes them? I asked them but did not have any reply since then.
Thanks for helping to debug our website!
Finding a workaround
Then, I found a workaround: instead of booking a round-trip ticket, I tried to book two one way tickets: one for the inbound flight, another for the outbound flight. Success: I can take the first one at the conditions initially indicated (25000 miles and 15 euros) but, when trying to book the second, it reported a technical error (and no longer an availability issue as when I tried to book a round-trip flight). Then, I decided to call the customer service over phone. E-mail support was not very helpful, so, let’s try the phone!
When the guy answered my phone call, it was long and painful: he asked me to confirm all the addresses I lived during the past years to check my identity and took 10 minutes to change/update my current address (he was looking for my province in the USA …). So, the beginning was not very promising …
The dude over the phone found a flight through New-York (no more flight with a connection to Atlanta) and a return flight that requires to change the airport (yes, you read it correctly: the airport) within 2 hours. So, in other words, if you are smart enough to use teleportation, you can book it. Otherwise, just forget.
Finally, the price was 25000 miles for each and 130 euros. So, even the inbound flight increased from 15 euros to 130 euros. So, a total of 260 euros for both with the need of having teleportation abilities.
Oh, I found the ticket I want! Let’s book it!
Finding help on the web
Next step: trying to reach KLM customer service through twitter. Obviously, they were quite responsive and quick to answer my request. I was impressed with my first contact. Things were going better. They made a booking for me. Magically now, the flight passed through Detroit. Requested number of miles was 25000 but the price was still 260 euros (so, yes, almost 9 times more expensive than what was proposed initially). I asked KLM over twitter why there was such a different and the only explanation I got was that airport taxes might changed. Nothing else. But why there is so much of a difference between Atlanta and Detroit?
As twitter is very limited (messages have to be less than 140 chars), I asked if we can communicate by e-mail. It was not possible because the twitter team communicate through … twitter (pretty obvious bro, no?). So, I could try to contact the customer service through e-mail, which as already a failure or use the phone with a dude that is as efficient as the US post-office to handle your request.
To finish, I looked on the internet and still found inbound flights at $45 and 25000 miles. But when trying to book the ticket, the famous technical error popped up so that I cannot book it.
The lord webserver decided that you will not get your ticket!
The real fix: get away from KLM and flying blue
So, I can still get a flight for 260 euros. But then, I have to spend almost all my miles (which are worth 1500 euros). And when looking at the price of a ticket from competitors (about 1000 euros), spending my miles for the ticket means that I get it at 1700 euros instead of 1000 euros.
Loyalty program they said? Just get away from KLM, the website is just a mess, information between the different customer support centers inaccurate and not synchronized and by being a member of the loyalty program, you just end up by overpaying your plane ticket. Even if some dudes were helpful (thanks to the twitter team!), the result is the same: I cannot book a ticket at the conditions initially offered and each time, what is finally proposed does not match with the initial conditions and price.
The take-away: you real need service, save your time and energy? Run, drive, take the train or ultimately, take another company.