See You Next Tuesday: American Express Travel + American Airlines = American Horror Story

See You Next Tuesday is one of the Boomstick's regular columns. On Tuesdays, I bring you the week's most laughable scumbags, idiots, and jerks for your reading and reviling pleasure.  If you don't get the name, visit your nearest middle school playground and ask the first kid you see.  You can read previous editions here.  Today's subject is:

American Airlines + American Express Travel = American Horror Story

Last year, my husband and I honeymooned at this fabulous Dominican resort called Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado (try saying that after three Mama Juanas).  It's located in Samana, DR, which is a little off the beaten path; we flew direct on Delta from Atlanta to Santo Domingo (about 3.5 hour flight), then took a two hour drive to get to the resort.  My husband booked the trip himself and there was much back-patting about how easy and smooth the trip was, and how close the DR is (compared to say, Hawaii), and how that's a huge selling point for traveling there because you really get to maximize your beach time.

This place is awesome.
We had a great honeymoon and met an awesome couple from Toronto whom we really hit it off with.  They were scoping out the resort for their wedding the next year, and made the mistake of drunkenly inviting us to come.  They obviously overestimated our ability to understand an invitation made out of politeness and duress, because sure enough, we decided to make the trip back to the DR for their wedding and our anniversary.

This time, we decided to use a travel agent to get us some better flight deals and room upgrades.  Andrew's boss, who is the best, nicest, most awesome person in the world, recommended her American Express travel agent, and offered to help us book the trip using her Platinum Am Ex status and rewards.  We were a little surprised that the total cost of the trip ended up being about the same, but figured it's just an expensive resort and we booked a lot closer to our trip this year. 

We were also surprised that we had a layover in Miami this time, since we flew direct last time, but we figured it's because we were landing at a different airport, Puerto Plata, that was probably much closer to the resort.  More travel on the front end; less travel on the back end?  And, naively, we were only slightly surprised and not chest-poundingly furious that the travel agent booked us on American Airlines.  Sure, we'd had a bad experience with American Airlines before (a flight to New York that was flat-out cancelled while we were en route to the airport, owing to "overcrowded skies"), but if a travel agent booked this trip, surely she knew what she was doing, right? Right?? 

Our flight was at 7:55 am, too early to take the convenient MARTA train from our house to the airport (MARTA doesn't run that early).  But, when our taxi arrived to our house at 5:30am on the dot, we made the hubris-riddled mistake of thinking, "wow, things sure are going smoothly on this trip!" We arrived at the airport to find that our flight had been unceremoniously cancelled.   Just cancelled; not happening, no explanation, no apologies.  We were later told by a shrugging gate agent, "oh, the plane didn't show up."  What? What do you mean the plane didn't show up?   "It just never came in last night."  So, like, you guys -- a national airline company -- LOST a plane and couldn't get another one, and couldn't tell any of the people on this flight until we arrived at the airport??

I have since learned that this occurrence is not an aberration for American Airlines. Over the course of the many, many hours we traveled, I had ample time to Google "American Airlines terrible" and "American Airlines sucks" and "never fly American Airlines."  I came up with plenty of hits, and not just angry Yahoo.com pages; actual journalistic exposés and recommendations that Friends Don't Let Friends Fly American Airlines.  The internet is overrun with stories like ours -- and stories much worse than ours.  In the month before those linked stories were written, fully half of American Airlines flights were delayed.

Obviously, since we booked through a travel agent, the first thing we do is call American Express to get us on a different flight.  We thought, "hey, maybe this is why you use a travel agent -- so someone can figure this out for you when something goes wrong. Now I see!"  As you, dear readers, are soon to learn, our positive happy-thinking little baby thoughts about this trip were all really, really stupid and wrong.

The problem, of course, is that we booked the trip through Andrew's boss to take advantage of her -- I don't know what, points? Upgrades?  Because I'm not sure what we got out of it -- but, since her card was connected to the  reservation, when we called American Express, they couldn't move our flights without her permission.  Second problem: Andrew's boss is on vacation in St. Maarten.  Shit.

So, we have no option but to wait around the terminal with the entire 7:55 flight to Miami (remember, we didn't even have a direct flight), and the two employees working there line us up by the time of our connecting flight.  Since our connection was at 11:55 a.m. out of Miami, we end up being second in line, a deceivingly efficient position. 

The gate agent helps a lady in front of us for a while, and then walks off.  Just walks off.  And please don't impute onto what I just said "scurries off" or "rushes off" because to say she "sauntered off" would be adding a few miles per hour.  And then she's just gone.  For 10 minutes.  For 20 minutes. For 30 minutes.  So at 30 minutes, we're frantic, and we decide to call Andrew's boss in St. Maarten at 7:00 a.m. in the morning, which is horrible and rude of us.  And, "thank God," we think (remember the thing about our thoughts: dumb/ wrong), "that she's awake and has her phone turned on and answered the call!"  So we explain the whole thing, falling all over ourselves to apologize and feeling like real assholes, and she's wonderful about it because she's wonderful about everything, and she says she'll call Am Ex and call us back. 

10 minutes go by.  Like, a really, really, really LONG 10 minutes. No call. No gate agent.  We ask the other gate agent if he could possibly help some of us whose flight got cancelled; "First class only," he says. 

Finally the gate agent returns, moving like molasses.  Again, she offers no explanation, no apology, which I'm beginning to think is a fitting tag line for American Airlines in general (American Airlines: No Explanation, No Apology).  10 minutes goes by.  The lady in front of us gets done, she checks her bag; it weighs 54 pounds; you're only allowed 50.  She repacks.  We wait.  It's finally our turn to the gate agent, no word from American Express.  We approach, give our name and itinerary.

The gate agent types it in, looks up and says, slowly, matter-of-factly, "Well, y'all aren't going to make your connection flight in Miami."

.....

No shit, lady.  We go back and forth and research options for us and I pull up the Delta flight schedule on my phone and there's a 9:45 a.m. flight direct to Punta Cana, DR.  (There was, I will note, because I am angry, a 9:45 a.m. flight to Santo Domingo direct on Delta, which is what we would've booked if we'd booked the trip ourselves, which would've given us two more hours sleeping and ten more hours on the beach.  But I'm pretty bitter.)  We look at a map of the DR -- Punta Cana looks closer to our resort than Puero Plata!!  Like, two hours away, which we were planning to have to drive anyway.  We ask about that, she says she can transfer us to Delta, no problem.  Hooray! She prints our tickets and we go to check in at Delta.

Delta is amazing.  They print our new boarding passes, check our luggage.  They give us drink tickets because we've had a hard day already.  I give the Delta gate agent a hug and we march off towards security.

American Express calls.  "We can't access your flight because that flight no longer exists."

No shit, AmEx. No shit. Thanks for playing.

We attempt to go about arranging some ground transportation from Punta Cana to our resort from Am Ex, but the person to whom we're talking now is not the person we need to talk to, and that person won't be in until 9:00 a.m.  Okay.  So we wait, we call at 9:00 a.m. on the dot, we're on hold for close to 40 minutes waiting to talk to someone.  (Our Delta flight was delayed 15 minutes so we have just a moment before boarding).  We find out, via Am Ex, that Punta Cana is NOT a two hour drive from Samana, where our hotel is: it's a SIX hour drive.   Yeah, it's closer as the crow flies, but apparently the DR is not renowned for their efficient and copious paved roads.  Six hours. Yikes.

American Express cancelled our car from Puerto Plata and scheduled us a ride from Punta Cana.  They told us it would be $200.00 and to make sure to put it on our American Express so we could dispute the charge when we got home -- then they would refund us for our troubles.  Now we're getting somewhere.

We get to Punta Cana at 1:30 pm, go through customs for about an hour, go find the van company, they have our reservation, but guess what. No, I really want you to guess.

....

They don't take American Express.

Of course they don't.  Why would they?  They're just the company American Express recommended and insisted we pay on their card. Oh and it's not $200, it's $200/person, plus tax and fees, so it's $450 bucks to get to the hotel and they want it in -- you guessed it -- cash. 

So, of course I'm exhausted and annoyed and we have a SIX HOUR drive ahead of us yet to go and I'm supposed to be on the beach already so I'm pretty furious at this point.  And so I get all lawyery and insist that I won't pay these people $450 CASH that we can't dispute and can't get refunded.  So I call another company with whom I had spoken back in ATL when we were first trying to get this figured out who I knew WOULD take American Express, and he says, "yes, we can take you, easy, let me send you a link to our online bill pay and you just enter your credit card info."  Easy, right?

Not easy.  The internet is "not working" in the concierge room of the airport.  Why would an airport have internet, though, right?  Finally we get a WiFi password and log online on our phones which costs a damn fortune but surely less than $450, right? (Not surely at all, actually- we'll wait for that bill, which I will pay with my American Express and add to my dispute.)  So we pay, and then my phone doesn't have cell service, and then we use someone's cell phone at the kiosk, and then we use a random stranger's phone to call the company and they got our payment and all is well and the guy with the shuttle service is outside RIGHT NOW.

So we go outside, and no guy. And no guy. And no guy.  And I'm calling my contact, who is apologizing but is actually the dispatcher located in SANTO DOMINGO two hours away and he can't get in touch with his driver and we're getting hollered at by every taxi driver in Punta Cana who wants our dinero and every time we tell someone we're going to Samana they look shocked and terrified and say, "But senora, that's six hours away!!!!"

No shit, y'all. 

We end up waiting at the airport calling and walking around and waving at vans for THREE HOURS.  We never would've waited that long, but it came in a series of "he's five minutes away,"  "no really, he's seriously five minutes away, just hold on," that dragged out for three hours. At 5:00p.m., someone from the company shows up and says "Mr. and Mrs., I will take you to your driver."  And we're like,  "wait, you're NOT our driver?" And he says no, but he can take us to our driver.

So we get in the car with him and all our luggage and we've been traveling for 12 hours and we're broiling hot and he takes us down the road a few miles and there's a van pulled over on the side of the road.  And he slows down our van, and at first I'm thinking, come on, don't help this stranded guy, we're in a hurry, but nope: that's our driver.  So we get out of the car, get our luggage, and get into this unmarked white van on the side of the friggin Dominican highway and I'm like -- oh my god, this is going to turn into Deliverance.  Or maybe Taken.  Like, a really rural Taken. In Spanish.

So I'm kind of freaking out a little bit, getting nervous, and Andrew's annoyed with me because I'm starting to ask a lot of questions, like "are we going to die here?" and he doesn't know what to do, and we're both hot and pissed off and out $350.00 and the last twelve hours of our life, and the driver says "you need to pay me."  And then commences a 30 minute stand-off where we're explaining we already paid.  So I call the dispatcher in Santo Domingo and I'm like, "hey, we're here with Luis can you please tell him we paid you," and he's like, "Who's Luis?"

So, now we're in a car with Luis and no one knows who this guy is and we're really, REALLY going to die on the side of this road.  So, the driver is calling his boss and the the dispatcher in Santo Domingo is trying to call the local dispatcher to find out whether Luis is a driver or a serial killer and everyone's speaking Spanish and somehow they're all using MY PHONE to talk to eachother which costs like FORTY DOLLARS A MINUTE YOU GUYS.  And then somehow Luis starts the car and starts driving and I'm not sure if I'm relieved or terrified that the car's moving and that's the last words the driver says to us for the next five and a half hours.

Until we get to Samana, the city where our hotel is, and he tries to tell us in Spanish that he doesn't know where the hotel is, and he wants directions.  And, yes, Luis, we've been here before but it was once and a year ago and now it's nighttime and we're in the backseat you take a FERRY to get there and OH MY GOD AREN'T YOU THE SHUTTLE DRIVER YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHERE WE'RE GOING. 

So he stops and asks directions to these two dudes who are sitting on their porch on the side of the road.  And they talk for a while and gesticulate, and then -- what do you know -- the two dudes are piling in the van with us!! And we're speeding off into the distance into the Dominican woods and it's nighttime and I'm a wimp and watch too many horror movies and I'm thinking, "well, this is the end."  And Andrew's trying to listen to them talk in Spanish and is getting super annoyed with me tapping him on the leg incessantly as if to say, "make them stop killing us already."

But, of course, they give beautiful directions to the resort and we arrive just fine.  Andrew tips everyone and they shake hands while I kiss the marble floor of the lobby and thank the heavens that we're around rich people again.  The night manager is there to welcome us and the ferry is all ready to go and we zoom out silently under the most insanely gorgeous Dominican night sky and we go to our marble villa and they had platters of cheese and desserts and fruit and towel swans and rose petals on our bed!  Cheese you guys! Fancy cheese!  Yes!

So the resort is great, the week is great, the wedding is great, the Canadians are great.  We email American Express and tell them this whole story and ask if, in light of it, can we please get transferred to a Delta flight home.  And I find the flight number of a Delta flight and verify that it's not sold out and send it to our travel agent.  I mean, I literally send the actual flight number we want to be on, and we say, you know, if this doesn't work, we'll literally take any other airline because we're pretty scarred on American Airlines and we'll fly out of any airport in this county on literally any airline except American Airlines.

And, because I cannot make this shit up, this is the actual email we got back:

Dear Mr.  [IT'S DOCTOR YOU HORRIBLE TWAT]:

Please be advised that I have called American Air on your behalf in an attempt to change your return flight to a requested gateway-Santo Domingo or La Samana.  Unfortunately no American flights are departing Samana on 7/20/13 and American has sold out flights from Santo Domingo-Atlanta for that date so unable to change the flight as requested I do apologize. 
What. The. Fuck.  I mean, WTF, really, really, REALLY.  I feel like:


So, all told, it took us 18 hours to get to the Dominican, and about as long to get home.  Puerto Plata, the city of our original airport reservation, was NOT closer to the resort; it was three hours away.  Our American Airlines flight in Miami got delayed 2.5 hours.  And, we found out that since we were repeat guests with the resort, we were entitled to a room upgrade anyway, so we didn't even owe that to Am Ex. So, dear friends and readers: do your own research and don't trust that American Express travel agents, who literally BOOK TRAVEL FOR A LIVING, have any better resources, abilities, or understanding of geography than you do, and never, ever fly American Airlines.  To Am Ex and Am Air: See You Next Tuesday.
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12 comments

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Blake
AUTHOR
July 23, 2013 at 11:38 AM delete

... Is this your longest post ever? I'll try to get back to you in a couple weeks with some feedback once I've finished reading it.

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Alison
AUTHOR
July 23, 2013 at 1:04 PM delete

Blake, someday maybe you'll book a flight with American Airlines and will have ample time to read it all.

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carl
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July 23, 2013 at 2:09 PM delete

Shoulda gone to Hawaii. It would have taken less time.

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Blake
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July 23, 2013 at 2:12 PM delete This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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Anonymous
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July 23, 2013 at 2:22 PM delete

Dentists = doctors like chiropractors = doctors

We are anonymous, we are legion.

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ben
AUTHOR
July 23, 2013 at 4:18 PM delete

Love it. I booked my honeymoon with a travel agent and had more problems than I have ever had booking myself. If you want something done right...

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Annie
AUTHOR
July 23, 2013 at 4:58 PM delete

Matt and I tried to use the Platinum Amex Concierge to find a place to stay in Italy in 2011 and Barcelona in 2012. We literally called them four months before we went on our trip and they didn't get back to us for weeks. The options they came back with were so horrible and ridiculous it was laughable. Even when we asked them to complete a basic task like making us dinner reservations at a specific time they happily e-mailed us back and let us know our 9:00 a.m. reservation was confirmed, for BREAKFAST. Though Matt tells me I'm wrong, I've pretty much decided that the only thing Platinum Amex is good for is drinking at the Delta Sky Lounge.

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DMD, MS, FICOI
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July 23, 2013 at 5:07 PM delete

I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm taking a scalpel or needle to someone...just hoping it's you.

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Carrie Marcus
AUTHOR
July 24, 2013 at 1:56 AM delete

Damn. I thought the drug cartels in San Diego's backyard (Mexico, natch) were a hassle. Sounds like you two need to come to Nayarit with us in a couple of weeks here to make this giant turd of an experience up to yourselves...

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harry walster
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July 30, 2013 at 10:25 AM delete

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August 19, 2013 at 6:40 AM delete

One will fancy the wondrous airline service in one's budget because it provides low value flights to the main cities across the country. it's daily cheapest flight to MAA.

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harry walster
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August 29, 2013 at 1:10 PM delete

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