Don’t Forget to Garden Your 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’ve even seen the failure of a ticket to get reissued cause flight segments on partner airlines to cancel.)

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

  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.

One of the many things I like about Award Wallet is that in addition to updating your frequent flyer account balances it grabs your itineraries as well — and then continually compares those itineraries to find changes. They’ll email you when an itinerary has changed, whether it’s flight time or class of service, seat assignment or aircraft type. That helps serve as an early warning system especially for those times you forget to proactively tend to 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. Wonderful reminder. Just checked my award flights to Italy in October, I have the email confirming the booking, but it’s no longer in their system! Never happened to me before. I’m sure they’ll fix it. And I will watch much more closely in the future! Thanks.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Especially the Awardwallet tip. Due to a schedule change, AA recently switched a flight of mine to a much less convenient time. Did they tell me? No. But Awardwallet did, and I got the notice from them and was able to rebook on another airline.

  3. Awardwallet has saved me several times, including a flight over the busy holidays when the airline changed our seat assignments and separated us from our kids. I also signed up for Tripit Pro, but get much less value out of it.

  4. Great tip. I learned this the hard way, before I discovered yours and other blogs. About 9 years ago, I had redeemed UA miles for a late November trip to Malta, making the booking about 9 months in advance. About a week before departure I discovered our return flight on Lufthansa was gone. I had never received any notice despite email address in the system. After hours on the phone pleading with UA and escalating, the best they could do was book me into Frankfurt a day earlier with a connection to NY the next morning. Of course, we lost a half day in Malta (fascinating place, esp. if you like history) and had to pay for a room in Frankfurt ( luckily on my corporate rate) , but I learned a lot (about both Malta and award bookings!), Sheraton Franfurt had great food and it was still a fun, interesting trip.

  5. Does it TripIt Pro provide these same monitoring services as AwardWallet? I have TripIt Pro thanks to Barclay Arrivals (for awhile longer) and will likely renew it on my own dime if so.

  6. In my humble opinion (but having used both for several years) Award Wallet is so much better than TripIt (Pro or otherwise) that it is the only one you need, in addition to the providers themselves of course and something like FlightStats. I find TripIt especially bad in organizing my itineraries.

  7. I would also add hotels to your garden list as prices or point requirements can change as well with easy rebooking and no penalties.

  8. @Steve true, hotels get mucked up less often than airline bookings, although checking things over makes sense, i once did make a booking for a hotel in thailand for the wrong month which i did not discover until i arrived…

  9. Booked and award ticket thru Aeroplan and in a random “gardening” check, discovered the airline (Brussels) had completely eliminated flights on that day of the week and were booked for the days they did have flights. Never got any notification from Aeroplan or Brussels so who knows what would have happened had I not been checking.
    It is also good to check on your seat assignment. On another trip the plane was changed and the airline had put us in the only seats that Seatguru said to avoid. Had we not checked, we would have been unhappy campers on a 9 hour flight. Thanks for the reminder to tend our reservations! We work so hard to get them it would be a shame to have random error mess up our careful planning.

  10. I garden mostly because I have to worry about United aircraft/flight changes dumping me out of my hard won bulkhead/exit row seats…which happens just about once every reservation these days…

  11. THANK YOU SO MUCH for this post, Gary! After I read this, I went to check on my First Apartment reservation from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in November and found that it had mysteriously bounced to the 777 two days later! I hadn’t gotten any email or notification about this enormous change. It took two cycles of attempts to get it restored, but today everything is back where it started. If I had just shown up at the airport expecting to get on the flight, there’s no way they could have sorted it out in time. (FYI, the cause seemed to be a glitch triggered when the connecting flight to Delhi had a minor schedule change that shouldn’t have created any problem. The same thing happened to another friend with an identical itinerary: SYD – AUH – DEL.) Anyway, thank you again for the important reminder!

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