Long Hold Times? Try an International Call Center

Jul 16, 2015

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These days, there’s a lot you can get done either online or in a mobile app — everything from choosing seats to tracking your baggage. Sometimes though, you can’t help but call, such as to book an award ticket with a partner that’s not available online, or to do a complex routing.

TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig has been trying to spend his American miles from multiple sign-up bonuses from the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. Every time he tries, though, his wait time is frequently at least 30 minutes (and sometimes much longer than that). Last time, had he stayed on the line or waited for a call back, his wait would have been nearly two hours just to speak to the right person to check Etihad award availability, despite his Platinum status.

There are many factors that go into call center hold times, like time of day and any weather issues at major hubs such as Dallas/Fort Worth for American. Some people suggest trying to contact international call centers to get connected with someone who can help more quickly — I decided to test this out.

American publishes a full list of international call centers across the globe. For this experiment, I focused on English-speaking countries only. On a Monday morning, I called a few lines across the globe with Skype. Among them were Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong and the UK. As a benchmark, I also called the US English-language line, as well as the US Spanish-language line (where the reps also speak English).

The goal? Put a simple award flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific on hold. I didn’t have enough miles in the account, so I asked for a hold — a very common situation that people transferring miles from SPG might have.

In our test, Singapore's call center was able to get us ticketed the quickest, despite some hold time.
In my test, Singapore’s call center was able to get me ticketed the quickest, despite some time on hold.

In our experience, calling alternative lines did greatly reduce the time spent on hold, but I did encounter some issues with agents and call audio quality. Of course, your experience will certainly vary greatly depending on the call quality and the agent you get, so if you have multiple lines at your disposal (and you’re a bit desperate to get through to someone), it doesn’t hurt to stay on hold with more than one line.

For each of the calls, I measured the hold time, including time spent navigating the menu, as well as the time from the first “hello” to the moment I received the last letter of the record locator. In most cases, I was offered a five-day hold on our award. There were two exceptions to that, unfortunately.

The UK line was unable to locate any award availability for several sample dates, despite there being many flights a day on this route, most of them with excellent availability. I was able to confirm availability on our desired flight through British Airways’ website, so it looked like a problem with their system.

Meanwhile, the first time we called the US Spanish line, the agent told me I didn’t have enough miles in our account, and that it was impossible to put an award on hold. Hanging up and calling again (a endearing term frequent flyers know as HUCA) worked, and I had an award on hold within minutes. I found that although all menu options were in Spanish, the agents I spoke to were all US-based and spoke English as well — I simply hit ‘0’ in the menu to reach an agent. From the US line, I knew that the question immediately following that would be something along the lines of “Is your travel entirely within the United States?,” to which I answered “No,” the Spanish word for “No.”

The quickest I was able to get my award ticketed was actually on the Singapore line. Despite the middling hold time, our agent was extremely competent, knowledgeable and courteous. I had pretty good results with many of the other international lines, but of course, I had to pay for every minute the call was connected.

For those without Skype or similar accounts, I found the US Spanish-language line to be an excellent option for when the normal English-language line was jammed full of callers.

Call Center Time Attempted (EDT) Call Center Time Hold Time Time on Phone Total Time Issues
Singapore 9:30am 9:30pm 4:32 3:54 8:26
USA – Spanish 11am 10am 1:34 8:09 9:43
Australia 10am 12am 7:54 3:36 11:30  Difficult to hear on both ends
Hong Kong 10:30am 10:30pm 10:09 3:18 13:27
USA – English 9am 8am 30:35 2:05 32:40
USA – Spanish 10:30am 9:30am 1:05 7:03 8:08 Unable to place a hold, said I needed to have enough miles
UK 9am 2pm 1:08 8:40 9:48 Unable to pull up inventory after putting me on hold

The bottom line, it can certainly pay off to try alternative call centers, and you may not even have to go far. The US-based Spanish-speaking line is a US toll-free number, so it can be a great option.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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