Always Double and Triple Check Your Awards!

I know these lessons well, I’ve had every mistake in the book made on the airline side.

  • Was the correct name entered on the reservation?
  • Was the correct flight booked on the right date? (Especially challenging for flights shortly after midnight.)
  • Was the ticket actually queued to issue correctly?

So many things can go wrong. It always amazes me that members in general are able to issue award seats at all, at least for those itineraries that are not bookable on an airline’s website.

Given the number of mistakes an agent can make — and that is after, even, battling to actually find award space on the flights you’re looking for — it’s important to make sure all of the details are correct.

And especially in the case of partner airline awards, to make sure that’s done correctly before closing the record and setting the ticket up for issuance.

Let me give one example I just dealt with. It was an American AAdvantage award for travel on American and Cathay Pacific. The passenger was flying between the US and Hong Kong.

And the agent misspelled his last name. It was just one missing letter, and I’ve never actually faced problems with one letter missing or just a couple of letters in a name reversed. This happens all the time, and the airlines and even security and immigration roll with it usually.

But in this case the passenger was a Mexican citizen. And I didn’t love the idea of a non-US citizen flying to the US on a ticket when his passport name wouldn’t match the ticketed name. Even by a letter.

So I rang up American. The ticket hadn’t been issued yet, but they still were only able to cancel out the Cathay space and rebook.

Cathay Pacific seats cancelled right away do go back into inventory. This is pretty reliable. If you book and cancel an award, the seats will pretty much always become available as awards again. It doesn’t usually happen in real-time and can take several minutes.

The most reliable airline for doing this — by which I mean cancelling many weeks later, I’ve never seen seats not go back into inventory — is Qantas. But Cathay is pretty reliable, at least as long as overall flight conditions haven’t changed.

Since the space didn’t go back into inventory right away there were going to be two options:

  1. The misspelled name was the American agent’s error. It was spelled to them correctly, they even confirmed correctly, but mistyped it anyway. So they could have made a request through their liaison to Cathay Pacific to open up the inventory. I’ve had success with this in the past but it can take a few days to square away.
  2. Book an alternate flight. I found first class space from Hong Kong to New York, just not quite at as desirable a time.

I decided we should grab the Hong Kong – New York flight, to lock in that option. It wasn’t as good, he didn’t really want to leave at 9am instead of noon, but it was better than rolling the dice that the liaison could get this fixed.

The onward connection from DC was only available in coach, but we set up the award with the connection in coach and then queued a request to release first class on the short American flight.

Once again we were set up for ticketing… by which time the original Hong Kong – Chicago flight returned to inventory. Back on the line with American, we swapped it back into the reservation, and had our original itinerary back.

All a pain of course, driven by the desire to get the spelling of the last name on the ticket right and a keystroke error when initially entering that name.

US Airways often pulls up the wrong travel date for flights between midnight and 3am.

United may not pass ticket numbers through to their airline partners, and so those partners see reservations without tickets and cancel the space.

That’s why you always need to garden your reservations.

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. One odd thing I have noticed about making Avios reservations on AA metal is that sometimes the date comes up “European” style, and sometimes not.

    So if I click the calendar for, say, July 4, 2014, sometimes it comes up 7/4/14 and other times 4/7/14.

    I originally thought this was some freak occurrence, but I have seen it at least 3 times each way when trying to book. So be careful.

  2. Well speaking of names, do you think the following woulf be a problem?

    Correct name is: Frank F Furter

    But on my e-mail confirmation it is FRANKF FURTER

  3. Tagging along on the names, what if the agent put “FirstMiddle Last” instead of “First Middle Last”?

    Does that matter?

  4. This may be a little off topic, but do you know anything about the legal krisflyer award routings. For example, a DXB-SIN-HKG-SFO flight will price out on the airline website and show up in the flight search tool on the star alliance website, but will it be considered a published routing?

  5. @Robbie Plafker – SQ won’t let you book that if it was on partners, since no backtracking is permitted. But they will permit you to book it all on Singapore, it’s an expensive award though using the all-Singapore chart. 47.5k/95k/130k each way for coach/business/first before taking the 15% online booking discount. That means a first class award would run 221,000 miles roundtrip DXB-SIN-HKG-SFO.

  6. @gary leff Could a Star Alliance award be booked if a UA segment was added to the end (eg DXB-SIN-HKG-SFO-SMF/MRY) It seems that that wouldn’t involve backtracking, or is Middle East-USA via SIN already considered backtracking?

  7. This is something only the experienced can appreciate. I’ve booked a few multi-partner w/stopover awards, and NONE of them ever goes smoothly. Always have to follow up after seeing ticket not issued. And half of the agents can’t even figure out why.

    Simple itinerary? OK maybe. Anything fancy, be prepared to pull your hair out.

  8. Had the same problem with a misspelled name on an AA award flying Cathay Pacific. Called AA and requested the name to be changed. They called CX and I had to wait a few hours for the change to be made, but it was. Aren’t you the one who always councils “If you don’t like what the CSR says, hang up and call back”. Take your own advice!

  9. @JD yes I could have gotten it done, but (1) there’s risk and factors I cannot control in dealing with CX, (2) I know CX space goes back into inventory, (3) there was an acceptable alternative available. So I took it, and then traded back to the original itinerary once it opened up. That kept everything under my control. 🙂

  10. Gary,

    I recently booked a US Airways North Asia reward and it looks like my name is reversed on the JAL site.

    -On confirmation screen my name reads FIRSTMIDDLE LAST. I think this is okay as, like you said, sometimes spaces aren’t enterable. Also, this is the ticket of record which is good.

    -On Japan Airlines website, my name reads LAST FIRSTMIDDLE.

    Do you think this is an issue? Should I call one of the airlines?

  11. Gary,

    You need to revisit Cathay space going back into inventory. Most times it does, the exception being if there is AsiaMiles waitlist for that flight. When the seat goes back, AsiaMiles instantly grabs it for the waitlist. Now, waitlist are a craps shoot. Many people with waitlists get the email or phone call and then do not take the now available waitlisted flight. I would say only about 50% take it, less if the flight is in 7-10 days. If the waitlister doesn’t take the offer, then the seat goes back into inventory. It is a process, that requires patience. This is why there are suddenly seats available, when 24-48 hours there weren’t. Another thing to keep in mind, is the time difference from Hong Kong to the USA. Add in weekends as well. This all adds to the delay of seats being added back to inventory.

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