Say you want to cash in your airline miles for some reward or another, or you're looking to upgrade or change a flight. Maybe you want to switch seats to one with more legroom. What's the best way to get the airline to give you what you want?

There are plenty of suggestions out there -- from leveraging social media to using or avoiding certain phrases when speaking to customer service -- but according to Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com and travel industry insider, the best approach is both super low-tech and super simple: just hang up and call again.

It's not no until it's three-times no.

On his blog, View from the Wing, Leff points out something that should be obvious but sometimes isn't when you're in the heat of an airline dispute -- like professionals in any other industry, airline agents vary greatly in quality. Some are completely knowledgeable about policies and procedures, others utterly ignorant. Some will bend over backwards to help customers, and some came in to work that day with a bitter grudge against the world.

So if one agent says no to you, that could mean what you're asking for is impossible. Or it could mean that individual is simply unable or unwilling to help you. The solution is simple: walk away or hang up and ask someone else.

"Since you don't know how hard the agent is working, or really anything about that agent, my starting point is not to trust the answer until you've heard it three times in a row from three different agents (with Delta sometimes more)," Leff insists. As that often means utilizing multiple means of contacting an airline, Leff helpfully lists the possibilities:

  • the check-in counter
  • kiosk, website, or app

  • telephone reservations

  • customer service counter

  • gate agent

  • Twitter

Honey beats vinegar. 

While simple persistence might be the key to getting a great many airline issues resolved in your favor, Leff does add that this only works if you respect the essential principle of success in any type of customer service dispute: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

"You still want to maximize your chances of getting what you want each time," he notes, "and you may even be pressed for time, running out of options to get where you're going. Why burn the bridge in front of you and have to move on to the next?" 

The bottom line is "you're more likely to get people to do nice things for you if you're nice to them than if you're a jerk." So be polite, be human, but by all means also be very persistent. When it comes to dealing with airlines, it's not really a no unless you've heard it three times from three different people.

Published on: Jun 5, 2018