When In Doubt, Feed The Phone Agent Individual Segments

Filed Under: Alaska, Awards

I’ve spent the better part of a week working on a trip to Bali. Finding award space that fits into two work schedules, two school schedules and our sitter’s schedule has been a bit of a challenge.

But, I finally found a set of days with award availability that should work for all parties involved. I was thrilled.


Then Alaska Airlines threw me for a loop

I called Alaska and gave the first agent I spoke with the dates and flights I was looking for and she almost immediately told me my outbound flight option only had one business class seat not the three I’d seen the night before.

I figured it was possible someone booked some of the seats. So, I said I’d check and call back later.

After checking on BA.com, I was still pretty confused about why the agent would say she couldn’t see the flights. The three business class seats were clearly still available.


I called back, talked to another agent and she also reported seeing just one business class award seat for my itinerary.

I double checked with Tiffany about phantom space showing on BA.com. She reminded me to check JAL’s website to verify the space.

Searching JAL to confirm award space

After digging up my JAL login credentials, I searched for the individual legs of the trip and saw the space was clearly available for both flights (CX883 and CX785).

CX883 is C3, which matches the BA.com availability
CX785 is C2, which did not match BA.com but was still enough space for the two of us.

Then, out of curiosity, I searched for the same itinerary all combined (LAX-DPS) and suddenly the space dropped to C1 meaning there was only one business class award. That’s exactly what the two Alaska phone agents reported to me. I’d found the problem!

LAX-DPS on CX883 and CX785 is showing C1

This confirmed the Alaska phone agent wasn’t inept it was just a system issue that was throwing off the wrong availability when the two flights were linked. Maybe the system was subtracting the flight with 2 seats from the flight with 3 seats instead of showing the overlap?

Either way, it was clear the two Alaska agents must have searched LAX-DPS rather than for the specific flights I read them.

When in doubt, hang up call again

Once I knew the problem, I called back to Alaska and explained my previous calls and how the award space in Alaska’s system didn’t match what I was seeing online. The new and GREAT agent understood the issue and was open to searching for each individual flight.

Less than a minute later, our outbound flights were locked in. And five minutes later she was reading me confirmation numbers for our itinerary.

At this point, I took a victory lap around my living room… and my dog looked at me like I was nuts (he might not be wrong).

Bottom line

I probably should have realized sooner the solution was to grab each flight separately. If you’re having a hard time putting together an itinerary, it’s worth checking if the agent is searching for individual flights. There can be a fine line to walk while leading the award booking conversation to avoid coming across as bossy to the agent on the other end of the line. The great agents are willing to work with you. The less than great ones are more insistent about doing things “their way.” If you get the latter, hang up and call again. It can make all the difference in the world.

  1. This is so true, and if you’ve ever tried to book an award ticket with SkyMiles…this is basically what always happens. Adding segments with Korean is always a pain, but after about 10 agents you can get everything right. Hang up and call again is the best advice for booking award tickets.

  2. @Bret – I had the same question because of that mess of a new award chart they posted. But, Bali does price out at Asia levels, thankfully.

  3. You spent a week on this? Wow how embarrassing, this would have taken a normal person less than an hour to figure out

  4. @Johnny33 – To be clear, the week I spent on Bali was planning the trip and finding space that worked with the many schedules we have to coordinate. But, even if a “normal” person would figure this out right away, there are people with varying degrees of knowledge in booking awards reading OMAAT and details like this can be perplexing to newbies. Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  5. @johnny33 If you’re the standard for a “normal person,” then I guess normal people are real assholes.

  6. In years of booking award tickets to criss-cross N and SE Asia for about 3 weeks at the end of every year, I have always done my homework and found individual segments for which I wanted to redeem *A miles for award tickets, before calling the UA 1K desk for assistance in doing the actual booking. I therefore fully concur that what has just been described is the way to go about redeeming miles for multi-segment award travel. Agents often like it that I’d already done my “homework”, as this makes things easier for them and speeds up things…a lot.

    Typically, after award seat availability for every segment has been confirmed, the agent would say, give me a moment to try to save you some miles (really) by finding a good way to group the segments into itineraries. This usually results into 2-3 separate confirmation numbers or PNRs. Almost every time it has ended up saving me miles, since an agent might, e.g., purposely overlook an “illegal” stopover or open-jaw that would have cost me extra miles!

    Good post and sound advice 😉

  7. I don’t think it’s a software issue. Sounds like standard married segments (yes this exists on award tickets).

  8. This is age old common sense to all. Always in every award segment by segment. Nothing new here

  9. How did it take a week to plan this ? I have 26 retail stores. I guess if it took me a week to make schedules around schedules id be in big trouble !!! Finding award space on CX is a simple search . I think these bloggers just try to fill up space with empty words.

  10. Mike, so one can book segment flights with Alaska? I was looking for flight from USA to Hanoi but she said she can’t book the flight because lax to hk is CX and the dragon air to Hanoi from hk.

  11. @ Matthew – The author didn’t say searching for CX space isn’t simple, only that availability for connecting itineraries listed by the airline may not display correctly for phone agents. Not everyone who doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe OMAAT, FT, etc etc may immediately think to feed the agents individual segments. BTW bloggers aren’t the only ones who fill up space with empty words. Your “look how much smarter I am!” comment is fairly empty too.

  12. @Eddy

    Agreed, this is probably married segment logic at work, not a glitch. Cathay is known to do that for award travel.

  13. ok so this all the above “issues” when searching availability have nothing to do with the agents competence or even how many seats are available on each fight. It’s called married segments and although each segment might individually show availability, the combined journey might not have any availability. Airlines use this to differentiate availability by POS or POO (that’s point of origin not….!) and so while me sitting in USA might not see any availability on a couple of connecting flights, someone from Canada might. Lufthansa uses this a lot especially for United origin cities…so you might get DEN-FRA-JNB availability in R class you might not see that for LAX-JNB even though LAX-FRA and FRA-JNB have R available!

  14. Mike–
    Kick-ass work, dude. The lesson here: don’t give up — just hang up, It worked out in the end and I learned from you (and life) to never take “no” for a first answer — or a final answer. To the rest of you giving him shit — eat a dick.

  15. I would have assumed it was a married segments issue as well if BA didn’t show the space when I searched for the full itinerary. Perhaps that’s just a quirk of how BA searches CX space, though. Anyone know why BA would show the space, which was ultimately bookable, if CX is intending to limit it using married segments?

  16. @Peter – You can only use one partner for each award. You can fly one airline to your destination and a different airline back home (because you can book two one-way tickets). But, you can’t combine two partner airlines on the same ticket.

  17. Should’ve gone with Dragonair – I find the actual soft product to be better, and the 2-2-2 better than 2-3-2 on the 777.

  18. Yea as others have said and you pointed out, a good agent should know this. Believe it our not but many agents actually do like it when they can find a customer award space. Having started in reservations out of college as a summer job and worked my way up to becoming a manager at headquarters for a millage program, agents have the knowledge to find seats. Having a customer who will be flexible, have patience, and understand the program is rare.
    Having had many hour long calls trying to find seats, a somewhat educated customer makes all the difference. Although any agent worth their salt knows you search for seats by segment due to married segments, change-of-gauge flights, or varying class of service available.

  19. Andre – nice attempt at bro-mance, “dude”. “Eat a dick” – yeah, high five bro-tato chip !!!! We’re all embarrassed for you just reading that – grow up …

  20. You’re embarrassed by my comment but no reaction to the naysayers who slam Mike for being persistent in his travel bookings and passing that along to others? Sounds more immature than any witty musings I leave here. You guys are an odd lot. I like that.

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