Old Jan 20, 16, 2:36 pm
Join Date: Apr 2015
Location: MCO
Programs: AA Plat, Avis PP, Marriott / SPG Plat, WN ALP
Posts: 26
Lesson Learned: AA/AB AAdvantage Award Complaints

Hi All,
I'm relatively new to FT, so mods please feel free to move this if you believe it belongs somewhere else. I want to regale my tale so future AAdvantage members will know what they're getting into when booking award travel on AirBerlin.

My wife and I recently completed a BWI-JFK-ZRH / ZHR-TXL-JFK-DCA award trip that we booked using our AAdvantage miles (my wife and I are both AA Platinum). This is my first award redemption with AAdvantage as I was previously US Air. After research and frustration at finding little award availability to Europe, I finally found an itinerary on AB that avoided BA (frustration = booking an award using AA miles on BA was normally more expensive than outright booking the flight using USD). Well my friends, here are some lessons learned...
  1. AirBerlin is formally a budget airline (think Ryanair and Spirit Airlines). From what I've read, they're making strides to get better, but some relics remain.
    • Even though we're Oneworld Sapphire, we were not allowed to select our seats before arriving at the airport (see point below about being unable to check-in online or over the phone). After booking, I called AB and the CSR booked us into a window and aisle seat. However, a couple of days before takeoff I checked online and realized that we didn't have seats. I called AB back and the CSR I spoke to this time said that we'd have to pay extra to reserve seats ahead of time, even though we're Oneworkd Sapphire. I also tried the Royal Jordanian Airlines trick, but that didn't work for us. As a last resort, I tried calling AA, but was tersely informed that it wasn't AA's problem.
    • Very limited space between seats. On the JFK-TXL flight, the person sitting in front of my wife put their seat all the way back the whole flight. She's a petite woman, but still had a very difficult time eating lunch and watching movies on their in-seat entertainment.
    • A much more restrictive carry-on baggage policy. I had a European sized carry-on and a backpack, but they said I'd have to check my carry-on as I could not bring both on the plane. More information can be found on AB's website about their baggage policy (make sure to check it before booking your reward).
  2. We weren't able to check in for our AB flights until we arrived at our first AB airport (JFK). Both AA and AB said we should be allowed to check in ahead of time, but we weren't able to check in online and when the AA and AB CSRs tried over the phone they were also unable to check us in. Normally this wouldn't be such a big issue, but it became nerve wracking because AB won't assign seats until check-in.
  3. AB seems to love short connections at TXL. We had a one hour connection, but then our ZRH to TXL flight was delayed by an hour. We managed to run across TXL and make our flight right at the end of boarding, then we sat on the taxiway for over an hour... Many people on our flight also had these short connections (as I heard from passengers coming in from Vienna and Dusseldorf).
  4. AB seems to have a bad history of lost luggage. My wife's bag made it throughout the whole trip, but my suitcase (the carry-on that I had to check) didn't make it back home. My wife and I checked our luggage at the same time and we both had Oneworld Priority tags. I'm not sure how hers made it and mine didn't. I filed a claim, placed numerous calls to their JFK baggage desk, and left messages, but received no response. Fortunately, I got an email from FedEx that a 40 lb package from AirBerlin was heading my way... Would have been nice to hear this from AB and not FedEx, but at least I'll (hopefully) get my bag back.

So, in summary, before booking your AA award on AirBerlin know that:
  • They're a semi-budget airline, so you should expect limitations in seat assignment, seat space, and carry-on restrictions.
  • If it's a mixed itinerary (AA/AB), then there's a chance you won't be able to check in for your AB flights ahead of time.
  • Avoid short connections at TXL if possible (although it seems AB loves arranging these short connections).
  • Try really hard not to check a bag. If you have to check a bag, make sure to pack emergency supplies in your carry-on and absolutely don't leave anything valuable in your checked luggage (I know this is good practice in general, but seems especially relevant considering AB's lost luggage history).

And a last lesson learned (at least for me): We're not going to book any more award travel on AB.

Last edited by STG; Jan 20, 16 at 2:55 pm
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