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Why we will never take another American Airlines Vacation

after our experience in Prague, 2010

©2010 by Charles A. Plesums, Austin, Texas, USA

First, please understand that we are loyal American Airlines flyers. Charlie has almost two million miles, and both of us are "Gold" premium members (now up to Executive Platinum status). Gold doesn't mean much in Austin (where on one of Charlie's flights they boarded the 75 Platinum passengers by rows), but it does mean we fly American a lot.

In 2009 we received an offer to travel to our choice of three cities - Paris, Dublin, or Prague, before the end of March 2010, and book the hotel and airfare as an AA vacation package, and receive 20,000 bonus miles/points. Jenny studied the offer in detail, and we decided to take them up on their offer. We booked the trip and had a good time in Prague, but the arrangements were a disaster. We will never book another trip through American Airlines Vacations, even if it requires changing airlines to get a good offer.

What happened?

As part of her research, Jenny obtained tourist maps, and picked the Bellagio hotel, one of the choices in the package, located a couple blocks from the Rudolfinum (concert hall), the historic synagogues, and the center of the tourist area. Seemed great - and we got our choice of dates. What could be better.

As the agent issued our ticket, I asked to choose seats. "No you can't, they will be issued at the airport." But as I looked at the seat map on-line, I pointed out that there were exit row seats, and other preferred seats, that we would like to get. "No, those are reserved for special passengers." "Yes, I know, we are both Gold, and are allowed to reserve those seats." "Sorry, we can't reserve those seats for you."

After that frustrating call, but with my reservation number in hand, I called the "gold desk" to reserve the seats. The agent explained that the reservation was locked by the travel agent. I pointed out that the Travel Agent was American Airlines, so after being placed on hold countless times, the reservation was unlocked and I got the preferred seats. It only took a half day, and by the time Jenny got home for lunch, I was ready to start drinking.

Usually part of our adventure is to take public transit from the airport to the hotel, but this time we decided to get fancy. Jenny went to the Bellagio Hotel web site to see if we could arrange an airport pickup for a reasonable price. The web site redirected us to the Clement Hotel - same format site, same description, same pictures, but most of the names had been changed from Bellagio to Clement (the last time we checked, Bellagio still appeared in obscure parts of their web site). She called (or emailed) the hotel, and arranged for a "hotel car" to pick us up and take us to the hotel.

Fortunately the hotel arranged the car, since we didn't know it would take us to a far different location than we were expecting. But it was the Clement hotel, and they had our reservation. Unfortunately it wasn't a hotel car, where the charge would appear on our hotel bill. Fortunately we had just enough Euros left from a previous trip to pay the taxi.

The hotel gave us a map, suggesting restaurants and ATM machines near the hotel. Only when we went to our room and studied the map (still showing the Bellagio hotel at the original location, a long way away) did we understand where we were. Jenny stormed (nicely) to the lobby, where they explained that the owners of the Bellagio had sold that hotel (and the old hotel now had a different name), and had bought the Clement, and brought all the reservations (and cocktail napkins and other accouterments with the Bellagio name imprinted) to the Clement hotel.

The Clement hotel was nice - certainly as good as any you expect in a tour package. But it wasn't where we expected - it wasn't at the location we chose when we made our reservation. Since that was the direction we often walked, one time (when we didn't sightsee along the way) we recorded how long it took to get to the original hotel - close to the path we followed a couple times per day - and the Clement was 25 minutes farther from the "center of things."

Strike 2

British Airways (who operated our flight from London to Prague and back) went on strike while we were in Prague. Thus there were very few remaining flights back from Prague to London. We never heard anything from American Airlines Vacations. When we called the Airline Gold desk, they immediately recognized our problem, and we agreed on a new combination of flights (that required us to buy a night in a London hotel). Of course, we didn't get credit for the unused night in Prague. We just chalk that up to the joys of flying, and don't blame American Airlines Vacations for that glitch, but do appreciate the help of the Gold desk, even if American Vacations did nothing.

Home at last, All is well?

We made it home safe and sound, and a couple hours earlier because of having to spend the last night in London rather than Prague. Now all we need is to see that big bonus promised. We weren't sure whether both would get the 20,000 miles, since we bought two tickets, or if only one of us would get the 20,000 miles (one hotel room). We waited for the monthly statement. Nothing. Allowing the usual 6 to 8 weeks for special points to be credited, we waited for the next statement. Nothing. Jenny started calling.

Before getting into the details of the missing miles, she asked about the missing hotel - how we ended up so far away. AA Vacations pointed out that the street address was correct on the hotel voucher they sent us just prior to the trip. So if you make a reservation at Hotel Bellagio (or whatever) with AA Vacations, be sure to check that the hotel hasn't moved. (After hundreds of nights in a hotel, I have never before had to check to be sure the hotel hadn't moved.)

After many hours on the phone to AA reservations, AA Gold desk, AA vacations, nobody wanted to help us with the points, because they couldn't find our offer (of course it was no longer on the web site). Finally someone asked us to fax them written documentation, with copies of everything. We did.

The very polite response was that we had stayed in the wrong hotel - the 20,000 points only applied if we stayed at one of the several "other" hotels offered. We had never heard of the suggested hotel, but Jenny checked the maps... it was even farther away than the Hotel Clement

If we are tempted...

In the unlikely event that we are ever tempted by an American Airlines Vacation, we will certainly print the details of the offer from the web site, and if we can't get written confirmation that we are meeting the conditions of any special offer, we will at least get the employee name/ID of someone who confirms all the details. It might even pay to have a review by legal counsel before sending money.

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