How to Be a Travel Ninja With Reservations That Stay Perfect

Many things can go wrong after you make a reservation. You don’t want them to go wrong for you, and you want to be able to fix them proactively when they do. Don’t get caught off-balance.

Just yesterday American Airlines posted this advisory for travel agents about making double booking mistakes.

American loves issuing debit memos to travel agents. Point is, though, ticketing problems happen.

  • You may never really have a confirmed reservation in the first place. A third party hotel booking site may not have properly communicated with the hotel you’re staying at, or a problem especially common to United an award ticket may never have been issued in the first place.

  • Schedules change. Sometimes it’s a modest change but even 15 minutes could change when you’d want to leave for the airport.

  • Schedule changes can ruin connections. You can’t always count on being automatically rebooked to the next-best flight combination. Sometimes your reservation will have an impossible connection, other times you’ll be rebooked to something entirely undesirable.

  • Upgrade requests can disappear as a result of schedule changes, or maybe you’re in first class but get moved to a flight with no first class cabin or one that’s full. It may be the best you can do, but a modest change that works for you could keep you in the desired cabin.

  • A ticket might need to be reissued. It’s a pain to turn up at the airport to find that your ticket is not in sync with your reservation. That can take time to sort out, time you may not have at the airport.

  • A schedule change may cause the whole thing to cancel, or another problem might. United is especially bad at not passing ticket numbers through to partners properly on award tickets, the partner doesn’t see you ticketed and you no longer have an award reservation. This doesn’t happen every time of course but it happens surprisingly often, United does know about the problem but it continues. When you can get a sufficiently empowered supervisor on the phone they’re generally pretty good about opening up space on their own flights to re-accommodate but that’s less than desirable, takes time, and isn’t something you want to try to figure out at the airport.

It really amazes me how frequently problems creep up. And how helpless many travel providers seem to be at least initially when you contact them. I am more or less a professional when it comes to travel and my reservations get screwed up, not all the time but not infrequently either and I often wonder how the inexperienced traveler can possible handle getting from A to B with all of the roadblocks thrown up in front of them.

Virtually every problem is fixable if it’s discovered in advance. The key is to make sure you know the status of things before they become too difficult to fix.

  1. Always look over your confirmation, make sure the flight or hotel information matches what you expect and the travel dates do as well and also class of service or room type.

  2. Confirm, check, and double check anything that doesn’t match, with more than one agent. If everyone says you’re fine you probably are. If anyone is unsure you likely have a problem.

  3. Check on your reservations frequently, if you book really far in advance then it’s worth pulling it up at least monthly to see if anything is different. That gives you plenty of time to fix things like misconnections or flights that disappear from your reservations.

  4. Especially in the case of international award travel with airline partners, since that’s where most of the problems I encounter are, check with each operating airline that they see your reservation and they see the ticket number. Get seat assignments. Any time there is a schedule change call again to make sure they still see the reservation and ticket number and that your seats are still intact. Don’t trust the website of the airline whose miles you used.

  5. Whenever possible, check in online far in advance. Having a problem checking in doesn’t necessarily signal a problem, but it signals it’s worth checking to see whether there’s a problem (and also a flag that you may wind up having to get to the airport super early to sort through any problems that cannot be verified and corrected in advance).


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Great list. #4 is particularly important. I have had these issues more than once with *Alliance awards on USAirways. Unfortunately, I had to solve them in airports in Sofia, Bulgaria and Amsterdam, when checking in, which is not fun. In both cases, it was clear during check in that something was not right. Everything looked fine on the USAirways and Lufthansa websites. Tickets had to be reissued in both cases by USAirways while I was on the phone to the US. No one at the airport could help me. So, “seeing” the ticket number is particularly important. I have also had this happen on an American ticket when part of the itinerary was on BA and part on AA after the AA upgrade segment cleared. I could not check in at all in Accra and it was a nightmare trying to fix it. So, sometimes even if you have checked and double checked, if you have a change like an upgrade, that can throw it off as well. I tend to compulsively recheck everything and yet I have had at least three of these international snafus.

  2. I’ve been obsessively checking our next trip – DEN-NRT-PEK-ICN-IST-FRA-YYZ-DEN on six different *A partners via US miles – especially with US’s transition to OneWorld. I’ve confirmed seat assignments on each flight. So far, so good, but I still worry about two-hour transit times at NRT and YYZ, especially given that our last DEN-NRT flight left three hours late. If that flight is lateagain, I have no idea how we’ll get rebooked on a later flight. My only solace is that I may be able to get an NH agent to take care of any rebooking (NRT-PEK is on NH) and they tend to provide service head and shoulders above any domestic legacy carrier.

    Fingers crossed!

  3. This is especially important when you change partner segments on a UA award reservation. The original res may go through to the partner fine; the change may not. (One thing I’ve seen is that the original and modified itineraries are both in the partner record, which can cause all sorts of problems, including cancellation of partner reservation, if not sorted out prior to travel.)

  4. Gary,

    Does tripit pro, awardwallet, or any of the other sites that track changes in travel plans work for this so some of these award issues?

  5. @JB I don’t really think so, it will help show changes to your reservation but won’t tell you if your reservation has an associated ticket. So helpful yes I suppose so but not a panacea.

  6. I have found that Saudia’s website is a life saver – you can check your itinerary using e-tickets issued by virtually any IATA member.

    That is the only way I found out UA had canceled our last segment YUL-FLL from the original itinerary when AC schedule caused a misconnect, and put the rebooking on a SEPARATE ticket but under the same PNR. It freaked me out when I saw the new e-tickets shown on Saudia site had only YUL-FLL segment while the receipts sent by UA contained all the segments. When I called AC, 2 agents had no idea what was going on. They had to dig really deep to see the PNR now contains 2 tickets for each passenger. One agent told me, “you would check in at CDG using your original ticket, then the next day you would check in at YUL using your new ticket.” Whew!

    The main ticket shown on Saudia site now has the last segment being exchanged / reissued while all other segments remain active.

    Now I check Saudia site on all awards booked if they are more than just a city pair. You would never be too careful when it comes to award travel.

  7. In my long experience booking UA mileage tickets, Air China flights are absolutely the worst. It’s as if the two airlines are not really partners. It has taken me 8 phone calls and 6 ticket exchanges to fix some reservations before. The only way to quickly solve the problem is to call United’s China phone number; they will call Air China while you’re on hold with them and make sure that the ticket’s actually been fixed.

  8. @ Daniel M — flying Air China on a United award (IAH-PEK-HKG). What are the steps I need to take to confirm that everything is correct in CA’s systems?

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