and some days the bear gets you...

As I've mentioned before, chasing points is generally for people with more time than money. Yes, I frequently get lucky and manage to snag a great redemption entirely via the web with minimal planning and zero time on the phones.

And then there's yesterday...

So I'm trying to get to Puerto Vallarta for a wedding 4 months from now. Since I know there's no direct service on the day I need to fly, I'm opting for a touch of glamour by flying through Mexico City on Aeromexico's new 787 and then connecting after a 2.5 hour layover.

I don't have Aeromexico (AM) points but I do have American Express Premier Rewards points that I can transfer. For most of their Airline partners, those transfers happen instantly. But Aeromexico transfers take up to two weeks. One way First Class is 30,000 points1 plus $125 in fuel surcharges and taxes. Not too bad for a flight that prices out at US$1000 (meaning i earn 2.75¢ per point).

By the time my points showed up in my AM account ten days later, the second leg of my optimum flight was gone. Aeromexico uses a fixed award chart, so it's the same number of points to fly from to Mexico city as it is to fly to Vallarta with the stopover. So I get on the phone… AM's call center is actually one of the better ones — I've never waited more than 10 minutes for an agent... Unfortunately, the agents can only see the same flight options I do online and my only choice is to take the reward to Mexico city and then buy a connecting coach flight to Vallarta. So add another $198 to the cost of my trip (now I'm essentially redeeming for 2.3¢ per point).

But we're not done yet. I get my itinerary email and realize that we're not sitting together and I have to call back to get us reseated. The agent tells me her computer is down and I should call back in 20 minutes. I do, and I get us reseated. So far so good. Then I get an alert email from Aeromexico telling me that my flight has been altered by the airline and it's now leaving at 13:40 instead of 15:00. And my seat assignments are gone. And I have no idea if I'm even still on the 787. I decide to go to bed and deal with this in the morning.

The next day I do some extra confirming and it does, in fact, look like our 787 is leaving 80 minutes earlier (I was afraid there had also been an equipment change). No wait for a phone agent, but the "computers are down again"... call back in 20 minutes and got our seats re-assigned.

UPDATE JAN '15: Normally I like to use Optiontown for upgrading my paid AM flights but for some reason their site wasn't working for me today so I called in to AM's call center. No wait for an agent, and he upgraded my paid MEX > PVR leg for $29 a person! Let's hope their lounge dragon doesn't get picky about the fact that my flight to PVR is on two separate tickets!

UPDATE FEB '15: Trip was fantastic! JFK lounge pix are here. Trip report is here.

Can I just point out right here how many times it's come in very handy that I used to work in a call center and know the military alphabet by heart? It's shocking how hard it is to spell a six-letter confirmation code through a cell phone to a remote call center halfway around the planet without it.

And since we're talking about my days in the call center, I'll point you to this link and just tell you that it's spot-on. Decide before you call if you want results or if you want to yell at someone making less than minimum wage to make yourself feel better, because you don't get to do both.

Bottom Line
While I realize that several of these things would have still happened even if I'd paid cash for the flight, today I'm really feeling like I'm working for less than minimum wage for the $677 I saved by using points. Put another way: I'll have spent more time dealing with this trip than the duration of the actual flight!

Aeromexico Credit Card
The agent offered me a credit card. He swore the companion certificate that comes with the card was good in all classes of service but I did some looking at the T&C's on the web and, as usual, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The companion certificate only works in the 3 most-expensive Economy class fare buckets, and isn't good for business class travel at all. The card's buy "3 get one free" option has more fare buckets (including C/J for Business Class) but I don't routinely need 4 tickets.

1 Aeromexico users "AeroKilometros" which exchange with Amex "miles" in the miles-to-kilometers ratio of 1-to-1.6. The redemption on AM's site is 48,000 kilometers (1.6 * 30,000). The Amex website incorrectly shows a 1:1 transfer rate. 


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