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Sometimes airlines have seemingly interminable hold times before you can talk to an agent. This mainly happens during disruptions to the normal routine like a big storm that is causing a ton of rebookings or the United/Continental merger.

Here are some tricks to lower or eliminate your hold times:

1) Call the highest tier elite line. Elite lines are answered immediately or with a much reduced wait time.

If you’re a top-tier elite, I’m sure you’re already doing this. Most of us aren’t top tier elites, so what can we do? If you know someone with top-tier elite status, have him call on your behalf.

If you call on your own, you’ll be bounced to the regular line when you give your frequent-flier number (or if you don’t give one to the computer. I tried all the tricks I could think of.)

2) Call a foreign call center.

Here’s a list of United call centers for instance. In case of a storm disrupting US travelers, the foreign call centers shouldn’t have the same wait times.

Just pick a country that speaks English as a first or second language and call in. For the call, I would suggest using Google Voice inside of gmail. Foreign calls can be as little as one cent per minute.

The agent you talk to should be able to help you with everything an American agent can handle.

3) Call a foreign language call center.

American Airlines has three call centers in foreign languages for callers from within the United States. Yesterday I had to call American to make a change to an award I booked.

I just wanted to move my free oneway forward by about a week. Since my trip is 22+ days away, the change is free.

Tropical Storm Isaac is currently increasing wait time at all the airlines’ call centers, so when I called, an automated voice told me my wait would by more than 60 minutes.

Since my change wasn’t urgent, I hung up. Then I found the number for AA’s call center in Spanish. I called up.

I put the phone on speaker while I worked on an award booking. After 12 minutes, the call was answered. I won’t claim I understood 100% of what the agent said, but I was able to tell him the change I wanted including new flight times and numbers easily enough.

In the end, if I had had to make a change, I would have saved over 45 minuted of hold time by calling the less used Spanish number.

What if you don’t speak Spanish, Mandarin, or Japanese?

I think you can still probably call. It’s very likely to me that the agents are bilingual, though I can’t be sure.

Recap

When dealing with an airline, only suckers pay full price wait the full wait time.

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