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Lesson Learned: AA/AB AAdvantage Award Complaints

Lesson Learned: AA/AB AAdvantage Award Complaints

Old Jan 20, 16, 2:36 pm
  #1  
STG
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Join Date: Apr 2015
Location: MCO
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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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Old Jan 20, 16, 2:46 pm
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jun 2014
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Last edited by Geauxtigers; Aug 14, 16 at 10:25 pm
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Old Jan 20, 16, 2:52 pm
  #3  
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
Location: Chicago
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Posts: 199
Originally Posted by STG View Post
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 they won't assign you a seat 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.
not to discount what you experienced, but their business class wasn't bad at all.. did not experience what you experienced.. The choices for AA are Finnair, Iberia, BA or AB, not a lot of choices if you cut out AB of the option.. It beats BA fuel surcharge, i hear worse things about IB (never tried them so cant really say) and as much as i liked Finnair a lot, they rarely open awards (granted AB rarely open awards too nowadays).. the point is, if you get AB out of your equation, you're constraining yourself even more when traveling inter/intra Europe.. but thanks for your story, i will make sure i check on their policy before i fly with them again...
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Old Jan 20, 16, 2:57 pm
  #4  
STG
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@Geauxtigers, did spamming AB's Twitter account look like this? http://www.slate.com/articles/busine...ial_media.html
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Old Jan 20, 16, 3:03 pm
  #5  
STG
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Originally Posted by AAnerd View Post
not to discount what you experienced, but their business class wasn't bad at all.. did not experience what you experienced.. The choices for AA are Finnair, Iberia, BA or AB, not a lot of choices if you cut out AB of the option.. It beats BA fuel surcharge, i hear worse things about IB (never tried them so cant really say) and as much as i liked Finnair a lot, they rarely open awards (granted AB rarely open awards too nowadays).. the point is, if you get AB out of your equation, you're constraining yourself even more when traveling inter/intra Europe.. but thanks for your story, i will make sure i check on their policy before i fly with them again...
Their Business Class product actually looked great. My wife and I are cheapskates though, so we try to only redeem miles on MileSAAver awards . I'd still research their various policies (especially baggage policies) ahead of time. I'm guessing that if you book in Business, they'll let you choose your seat ahead of check-in?

As for European travel, you're absolutely right. My wife and I are looking domestically, to South America, and to Hawaii for future awards. BA's fees are (almost literally) insane, and after our poor AB experience we're ruling them out too.
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Old Jan 20, 16, 3:06 pm
  #6  
 
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Last edited by Geauxtigers; Aug 14, 16 at 10:25 pm
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Old Jan 20, 16, 3:19 pm
  #7  
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Originally Posted by STG View Post
Their Business Class product actually looked great. My wife and I are cheapskates though, so we try to only redeem miles on MileSAAver awards . I'd still research their various policies (especially baggage policies) ahead of time. I'm guessing that if you book in Business, they'll let you choose your seat ahead of check-in?

As for European travel, you're absolutely right. My wife and I are looking domestically, to South America, and to Hawaii for future awards. BA's fees are (almost literally) insane, and after our poor AB experience we're ruling them out too.
Be aware that AA, AB, and BA are not your only choices for getting to Europe using AA miles, but they are the only choices that show up on aa.com.

There are other airlines, including Iberia which has some extra fees but not as high as BA, and Finnair with no high fees, that can get you to Europe with AA miles, but you have to search for availability elsewhere (you can do a certain number of searches free as a FlyerTalk member at www.awardnexus.com, click on "more signup options" next to the big green Purchase button to get to the place where you signup for free with your FlyerTalk info), and then call up AA to make the booking.

And AA itself can have availability if you have flexibility in both when you travel and how you route (ie, the award all on AA with the fewest miles may require extra connections). Also, if AA doesn't fly to the place you want to go in Europe, remembe that "mainland" (non-Scandinavian) Europe generally has great and fairly fast inter-country rail service, and it can be very practical to fly AA to the closest place AA flies its own planes, then take a train the rest of the way.

Also, if you can fly AA to LHR across the pond, you don't get charged such high fees for connecting to BA only for intra-Europe connections. It's only when BA is how you fly from the US on the long flight that you get those astronomical fees.

So while there are wonderful places to visit in other parts of the world, certainly, don't give up totally on Europe just because you don't want to fly AB again and don't want to pay BA's high fees.
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Old Jan 20, 16, 5:32 pm
  #8  
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
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Originally Posted by STG View Post
Their Business Class product actually looked great. My wife and I are cheapskates though, so we try to only redeem miles on MileSAAver awards . I'd still research their various policies (especially baggage policies) ahead of time. I'm guessing that if you book in Business, they'll let you choose your seat ahead of check-in?

As for European travel, you're absolutely right. My wife and I are looking domestically, to South America, and to Hawaii for future awards. BA's fees are (almost literally) insane, and after our poor AB experience we're ruling them out too.
I'm single, so 20k or 30k vs 50k to sit in business, it make sense for me (after the devaluation i will have to consider that since we won't accumulate RDM as fast as we used to)..but when 2 ppl involved, those difference make a different.. And yeah from the 2 round trips i experience with AB on business, i was able to choose seats ahead of time..
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Old Jan 20, 16, 5:56 pm
  #9  
 
Join Date: Mar 2011
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Their Business Class product is for midgets. I'm 6'4 and there is no possible way I can fit on one of their lie-flat seats.
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Old Jan 21, 16, 4:29 pm
  #10  
 
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We flew DFW-FRA on AA and connected to AB onward to Spain last summer. No issues with carrying on bags. Perhaps because it was intraEuropean vs transatlantic somehow?
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Old Jan 21, 16, 5:03 pm
  #11  
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
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Lesson Learned: AA/AB AAdvantage Award Nightmare

I'll second the comment about short beds in business class. I'm 5'10" and my head and toes both touch.
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Old Jan 21, 16, 6:05 pm
  #12  
 
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Originally Posted by cmglobal View Post
I'll second the comment about short beds in business class. I'm 5'10" and my head and toes both touch.
Which is kind of funny since Germans tend to be tall. (My German ex-boyfriend, who is 6'2", was known as the short one amongst his friends.)
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Old Jan 21, 16, 6:10 pm
  #13  
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Originally Posted by sdsearch View Post
Be aware that AA, AB, and BA are not your only choices for getting to Europe using AA miles, but they are the only choices that show up on aa.com.
AY shows on AA.Com and fully bookable online.
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Old Jan 21, 16, 7:45 pm
  #14  
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Lesson Learned: AA/AB AAdvantage Award Nightmare

Checkin mix itinerary has not been a problem (JFK-ZRH-DUS). AA was able to check in AB ZRH-DUS.

As for the short connection at TXL, if the ZRH-TXL was delayed due to reasons within AB control you might have considered casually walking over to TXL JFK flight and missing the flight and claim EC261/2004 compensation; could have been as high as €600 per passenger. LOL
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Old Jan 22, 16, 5:05 am
  #15  
 
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Had a perfectly good time in their biz product, very good service, good food, and decent seat, i dont sleep on planes so was not concerned about the length.

Y is Y, bags get lost on every airline, and connections get busted everywhere except CLT . OP's trip does not sound like fun, but is also not a reason to write the airline off wholesale.
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