Reader John shared his story of an award ticket — for Etihad’s First Apartment no less — that fell apart. Two pieces of knowledge could have saved him, and avoided the situation where an agent accidentally cancelled out his booking.
Here’s his story, I’ve cut some parts of it for easier reading.
One week ago, I called the Australian local number for AAdvantage… to make a reservation using A[merican] miles on Etihad Airways. I had been looking for availability for 2 seats in first class on their new A380 route from Sydney to Abu Dhabi…
I proceeded to make the reservation for 2 award seats without any issue and was given until 11:59pm on [XX] April 2015 (local Sydney time) to complete the reservation…
At 9.44pm on [the last day of the hold] I called the AAdvantage line again to inquire whether it was possible to extend the reservation period by 24 hours as I was waiting on funds to transfer from my savings account into my spending account [to avoid foreign transaction fees].
The[y..] pulled up my reservation and after a couple of minutes doing something at her end, told me it was not possible to extend the time. I accepted this.
[..A]s the time could not be extended, I would go directly to aa.com and purchase the balance of the miles I needed to complete the booking using my credit card (accepting that extra fees would apply by my bank) and would call back the AAdvantage line to complete my reservation.
By this time, it was 9.58pm. I logged into my AA account and located the reservation but noticed that it now said ‘Cancelled’…[I received a voicemail from the agent] saying that she needed to speak to me urgently.
…[The agent] said that when she went into my reservation during our phone conversation and tried to see if it was possible to extend time for me to complete the booking, she “refreshed” my booking, at which time their system (she called it the SAGE system) automatically overrode the reservation and cancelled the itinerary. I could not believe it!
..now only 1 award seat was showing up…
24 hours later [the agent] apologised again, gave me the same story that it was the AA system SAGE that cancelled the reservation. She said that she had received a reply from Etihad who would offer to book my partner in an Economy seat with me in First. She said that if a first class seat became available, that I could transfer the economy seat up to the first class seat…
…I have checked and there are still at least 3 seats available on [the flight]. Those seats are available for Etihad’s own First Seat Freedom award.
It’s frustrating when you have an amazing award and it slips through your hands, and doubly so when it appears as though an agent made an error.
In this case though the member would not have been able to issue the award anyway even if the agent had done everything right.
- American lets you hold awards, which is great.
- But reservation was not ticketed and there aren’t any guarantees until ticketed, although the airline should try to go out of their way to fix things when they’ve made a mistake.
- It’s important to know that award holds cannot be extended when they are on other airlines, unless more award seats are available on those airlines. (If there were two more first class award seats it would have been possible to rebook the segments with a new ticketing deadline.)
- However the member didn’t have all the points needed to ticket the award. So even if the agent had left it on hold properly, they wouldn’t have been able to issue the award until purchased miles had posted.
- Historically when you buy American miles it took 36-48 hours for them to post to your account. It’s faster now, but not advisable to bank of instantaneous. He could have purchased the miles but still not have had them before the hold expired.
When seats cancel they do not necessarily go back into the same award inventory. Whether or not they do varies by airline and whether more seats have been booked on the flight in the interim.
While Etihad members can book any seat with (some amount of) miles, it’s only saver awards – “Guest First” that American has access to.
Etihad is not going to proactively open additional seats (converting paid inventory to award inventory) for a reservation that wasn’t ticketed and where Etihad isn’t the one that made the mistake. And American isn’t going to go buy the first class seat as a make-good on an unticketed reservation.
So unfortunately, in all likelihood, this member is out of luck on this award.
The key things to have known here:
- Extending the hold would not have been possible in the first place.
- Buying miles can take time to post to an account, just as transferred miles can — even when something usually happens right away, it can take time to sort out.
The member needed to buy the miles earlier, wanting to move funds to avoid foreign currency charges unfortunately cost them the award. It’s unfortunate that the agent cancelled the reservation hours before the hold was to expire, but it might not have changed the outcome either way (unless the member had someone else’s account that could have been used to issue the tickets in very short order).