At the beginning of the year I redeemed Citi Thank You points for my mom’s flight from Belarus to USA. At the time, I had a Citi Prestige, so was able to get 1.33 cents per point (read about the card here). The flight was booked through my husband’s account and since then we’ve canceled his Citi Prestige. In fact, at the moment he has zero cards with Citi, which led me to recent frustration extravaganza. But let me back up.
You know how normally when there is an airline schedule change, you get an email notification? Not with Citi. Apparently, their travel agency never forwarded my mom’s reservation details to the airline (Lufthansa rep told me they were supposed to). Anyway, the reason I checked the reservation in the first place was because I wanted to add my mom’s United frequent flyer number. When I logged in on Lufthansa website, here is what I saw:
Houston, we have a problem. Since the airline made the change, I knew they would rebook it an no charge. But before I called Lufthansa, I checked various schedule combinations. Unfortunately, the only option with one connection was the flight the following day. I don’t like the idea of shortening my mom’s visit to US, but adding extra stress and connections just didn’t seem worth it. Fortunately, we were planning to have her in our house for a few days before leaving on a trip to Florida Keys.
When I called Lufthansa, the agent was very helpful and sympathetic to the situation. However, she said since it’s a major schedule change, I would have to call Citi Thank You Travel center and let them handle it. Nooooooooooooooooooo!
Image courtesy of Phaitoon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I had a bad feeling right away. Anyone who has had the “privilege” of dealing with Citi will understand.
But what can you do? So, I called. After a very long wait I finally got a super clueless agent. I’m not trying to be mean, it’s the truth. She couldn’t find any information, even though I had the trip ID number, airline reservation code, you name it. It didn’t help that my husband currently doesn’t have any cards with Citi.
I could tell she wasn’t understanding my situation because at one point she asked me what city I’m looking to fly from. I was struggling to keep it together and didn’t want to do HUCA and wait another half hour on the phone. Finally, I asked her to please let me talk to a supervisor, which I should have done to begin with. Thankfully, the second lady was more with it. It took her some time to find the record of the reservation, but she finally did.
Apparently, Citi has a three-step process. Rather then connect you to the right department to begin with, they first want to verify that you have a Citi Thank You account and a valid reservation. This could be problematic if you currently have zero active Citi cards. Then they connect you to the travel center. The travel center gets in touch with the department that handles all the changes.
The last one doesn’t open till 10:30 AM Eastern, so the “second-tier” rep just gave me the phone number (1-866-204-9145) and special code attached to my booking. Mind you, it wasn’t the original trip ID, but something entirely different. More complicated than it has to be? You bet. It’s Citi after all.
Getting the right person (finally!)
At 10:35 AM I made the call and had to wait 35 minutes to get the agent on the line. Fortunately, this person seemed to know what she was doing. Interestingly, she asked me for the original trip ID number (not the special code) and was able to locate the reservation without any issues. Sigh. She then made the call to Lufthansa while I waited.
My mom’s flight reservation was changed at no cost and everything is now set. I’m so glad I caught this issue in time before she got to the airport only to find out there is no flight from Minsk. The whole process took probably two hours total, plus lots of aggravation, but I’m very happy to have it taken care of. Obviously, I’ll check it again few days before the flight to make sure there are no more nasty surprises.
I did ask the Citi rep what would happen if I wanted to cancel the flight and get a refund. Since my husband no longer has Citi Prestige, how would it be handled? She told me that the airline would mail me a check for the original price of the ticket. Even though we used points, Lufthansa got paid in dollars (a total of $670).
So, if you encounter schedule change, you should be able to get a refund even if you no longer have the credit card account used for the original booking. Obviously, get the name of the rep and some sort of confirmation just in case.
There is no question that using flexible points to pay for flights can make a lot of sense, especially when you receive extra value on your redemption. The best program by far is US Bank FlexPerks where you can get up to double in value on your points, compared to gift cards and statement credit. However, not purchasing tickets directly through airline has its drawbacks.
When you book through a third party, make sure to keep track of the reservation and check for any changes on airline’s website. Look for “airline reference number” on your reservation and if you don’t find it, call the agency right away. Then make a habit to look it up on a monthly basis, so you won’t be surprised when you get to the airport. Doing so will give you advance notice so you can reschedule any hotel stays or car rentals.
Insuring tickets purchased with points could also be problematic. Make sure to save confirmation that shows the price in dollars. If you don’t have one, print it from a site like Kayak.com that has the date and flight numbers, which happen to match your points’ redemption rate. That way, if you need to make a claim, you’ll have proof of the $ cost amount.
In order to be successful when it comes to miles and points hobby, one needs to be organized and on top of things. I’m still working on it, and fail on a regular basis. The key is to learn from your mistakes and move on. I’m happy my mom will get to spend time with her grandkids, even though we lost one day. Winning!
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.