Protect Yourself By Gardening Your Airline Reservations

It’s important to “do gardening” on your bookings, especially ones that you make relatively far in advance.

By gardening (a description I think I first got from Nicholas Kralev), I mean tending to the bookings — checking up on them, and doing minor maintenance.

Some common things that happen to reservations between the time of ticketing and travel:

  • Schedule changes: This may cause you to have connecting flights that no longer have enough time to connect, or when American rolls out major schedule changes, I find that upgrade requests tend to drop out of bookings.
  • Aircraft swaps: changes might cause you to downgrade cabins, or to lose seat assignments.
  • Disappearing seats: Seats sometimes disappear for no apparent reason, or perhaps because you’re assigned a bassinet seat and not traveling with an infant or you’re in a premium seat that your status or fare may not entitle you to.

Sometimes changes like these can cause your ticket to need to be reissued, and it’s much better to get than done in advance than when you are trying to check in for your flight.

I find it’s worth checking a booking right after you make it. And if it’s for some time in the future, scrolling through your reservations at least once a month. Finally, a few days in advance of travel.

  1. Checking your reservation right away will make sure that it’s been made for the correct date and for the correct flights. It’s also the time to make sure that you don’t just have a confirmed reservation, but also ticket numbers (you tickets were issued) and that any partner airlines you may be traveling on can see those ticket numbers (they can tell your booking is travel-ready and won’t likely cancel your reservation).

  2. Checking your reservation between the time of booking and time of travel will identify any problems early, when there’s a good chance that other options could be available — whether alternate flights or seats.

  3. And finally checking your reservations prior to the date of travel will suss out problems with a booking while there’s still time to get it fixed and you aren’t running up against the clock of a pending departure.

Yesterday I opened up an existing award reservation to find that Malaysia Airlines was no longer operating an A380 on the route I was scheduled to fly, and so I was downgraded to business class with a ticket that needed to be re-issued (I decided to fly Cathay instead with better times).

Last week, the morning when a glitch made it look like American was going to start adding fuel surcharges onto most international award tickets, I made a mostly-Cathay Pacific award booking. I got the e-ticket confirmation by email, and noticed that the first flight segment was missing from the e-ticket summary though everything looked right in my reservation online. I rang up American who saw that the first segment was missing from the ticket (!) but also that several of the Cathay Pacific flights I had reserved were showing unconfirmed. The agent documented the reservation and queued it for their liason to Cathay, who had things sorted out in about a day.

In both cases there were simple fixes to the reservation, but I would not have wanted to let time pass such that alternative award space disappeared, or that it would have been fighting against a clock to get things fixed (especially if the flights I was supposed to be on became more heavily booked and the partner airline was less inclined to be helpful0.

Always tend to your future bookings.

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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, 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. I believe Award Wallet alerts you to some schedule/aircraft/seat changes when you refresh all your Award Wallet accounts. Very helpful since I rarely get emails from airlines about changes.

  2. Recently found, when I went to check in, that my family had no seat assignments for our flight to Reykjavik. I made the booking via Travelocity (for the UR points) and must have forgotten to check through the Delta system that the seat assignments had been transferred along with the reservation (a frequent issue, according to Delta).

  3. +1 on Award Wallet.

    SQ discontinued one of the their twice daily SIN-MLE flights that I had booked through USAIR. This happened three weeks ago, the only notice I got was from Award Wallet.

    While SQ rebooked me on an evening flight, I didn’t want to loose a whole day (noon arrival vs. 2AM arrival) at the PH Maldives. Getting the notice early allowed me to reroute through KUL and still get a full stay, without paying.

  4. I booked through mileage plus but how do I confirm with airline partners? I got eticket numbers and it said on confirm that it was ticketed, do I still need to call partner flights to make sure they have my reservation? Thanks

  5. Thanks, Gary! Just called and glad I did! They messed up my booking and partner flight only showed one segment instead of 2. Luckily they still have the seats so they fixed it.

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