Two things you should always look out for when booking awards

I’ve booked hundreds of awards for people through my award consulting service, and I can count on one hand the number of times that tickets weren’t issued correctly and follow up was required.

I do this near full time, so I think I’ve seen just about every possible scenario of award tickets go wrong, and fortunately I almost always catch them as soon as they’re ticketed.

I must have had a bad week (not that it was really my fault, but instead I just had bad luck), because I had two award tickets that required a bit of extra work, and there’s a lesson to be learned in both scenarios.

The first lesson is to always reconfirm your reservation with the airlines operating the flights you’re booked on. I had booked a client on an itinerary including multiple airlines, with two segments on Asiana. It was a US Airways ticket and everything issued as expected, or so I thought.

While it’s somewhat archaic (since it’s unnecessary 99.9% of the time), I always double check with the operating airlines to ensure everything looks correct on their end. If a client is flying an airline that has an online booking management tool, I’ll use that. However, many airlines, like Asiana, don’t let you view itineraries online unless you booked directly through Asiana.

So for this particular client I called to reconfirm the itinerary, as I always do, and it seems that for once it was actually for good reason — the agent saw the first segment for travel on Asiana, but not the second. I gave the agent the ticket number to make sure they didn’t see it connected to that either, and they didn’t.

I called US Airways and immediately requested a supervisor, and they said everything looked fine on their end and there was nothing they could do. I put them on hold and conferenced in Asiana, and the conversation that ensued was quite comical. US Airways said he was booked on the flight, while Asiana said he wasn’t. US Airways even took the segment out, added it back again, and reissued the ticket, which didn’t help. So they weren’t able to do anything, though fortunately airlines have alliance liaisons that deal with exactly these types of issues. The following day the issue was resolved and both airlines saw the booking correctly. The US Airways supervisor said “I’ve been working in the industry for 27 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before.” While I haven’t been working in the industry quite that long, I’ve never seen anything like it either.

The second lesson is to always make sure you have a ticket number. In other words, make sure your ticket is actually issued and not just confirmed. This would generally go in the “no $&^%, Sherlock” category, but you’d be surprised.

Case in point, I had a client that was booking a complicated Star Alliance award ticket through Continental less than 36 hours before departure. I held the reservation, made sure the fare quote was in there, etc. He wanted to call to ticket the actual reservation (since you need to give your account PIN and credit card information), so he did that. While most airlines (Delta, United, US Airways, etc.) instantly ticket reservations, Continental doesn’t do instant ticketing. While it usually takes only an hour or so to ticket, it can often take up to a day if it’s a complicated ticket. Nonetheless, in the interim, the ticket shows as being “confirmed” on the booking page. And to any rational human being confirmed means, well… confirmed.

I reconfirmed the reservation with the actual operating airlines, and everything looked fine with them. Continental is usually pretty good about ticketing, so I didn’t check to make sure the actual ticket was issued (I do that when I am the one that issues the ticket, though when the client issued the ticket I didn’t).

Well, the following day I get a call from the client, who is stuck at the airport because Continental never issued his ticket. I called up Continental, though the agent didn’t understand the urgency of the situation, since the flight was in 90 minutes. He gave me some BS excuse along the lines of “oh, it’s because this isn’t a valid routing.” I reminded him that there was a fare quote in the reservation and explained to him why it was a legal routing. After being on hold for another 20 minutes he agreed with me.

Then he said it was because the client provided the wrong credit card information. I just asked him to fix the problem, though he first wanted to investigate the issue, frustratingly enough. As it turns out after the ticket was confirmed, Swiss didn’t confirm two of the segments on the itinerary. Instead of calling the passenger to advise him of this, they just didn’t issue the ticket. Fortunately everything worked out in the end.

But if you’re booking an award ticket, those two things are key. A lot of people suggest having the airline’s record locator, though a ticket number is much more valuable. You can have a record locator without having a ticketed reservation, while you can’t have a ticket number without having a ticketed reservation.

Filed Under: Awards
  1. Good advice. I also keep copies of each ticket number if I change the reservation. With some of my mini-RTWs with Aeroplan booked months in advance, I have 3-4 changes, each with a different ticket number. I call each airline after each change to confirm, and carry with me the history of ticket numbers—just in case!

  2. Great advice, Lucky – it’s happened to me. I had a CA ticket PVG-TPE segment reserved through UA, but since CA didn’t have spece, it never ticketed – and they failed to tell UA (or me) about that. I didn’t find out until I showed up at PVG for the flight! Since the UA desk wasn’t open yet, I couldn’t get them to help. Numerous, very expensive calls from the PVG airport lobby ensued, and I finally got a different routing – but was delayed a number of hours.

  3. Once, in the middle of traveling on a multi-carrier Star reward ticket issued by Aeroplan, we got stuck trying to check in, continuing after a stopover, despite having ticket numbers, confirmation numbers, printed itineraries, everything. The check-in agent kept insisting that her computer told her that our tickets had been “exchange-ed”, though couldn’t say for what. Supervisors were called, to no avail, and we were on the verge of making an expensive call to AP from China, when I noticed that the ticket number on my previous AC boarding pass didn’t match what I had on my itinerary. Turns out AP had quietly reissued the reward ticket at some point, and we didn’t notice. AC had no problem checking us in, but for whatever reason, FM couldn’t find our e-ticket by names — they had to have a valid ticket number.

    Leson learned — for complex itineraries like this, print the itinerary right before leaving, not just right after booking…

  4. Also it’s nice to periodically check your itinerary to make sure things haven’t changed- just because it’s confirmed, paid for, etc. doesn’t mean something won’t go wrong in the future. I booked an award ticket 6 months out on United for a ticket to Cabo San Lucas and when i checked it a few weeks later, it showed I had a ticket to Los Angeles, CA. I called United and they had cancelled all of their flights to Cabo for the season (they told me indefinitely which was not the case). Geez guys, thanks for letting me know! About 3 calls and 2 supervisors later, I got someone who helped me rebook on US Airways via PHX which actually saved me some miles 🙂

  5. Even with valid ticket numbers, when you make changes to partner awards, re-check with the operating carrier. Last December we flew on UA awards for travel SFO-IAH-MSY-IAH-SFO; mix of UA and CO flights. After we flew our outbound segments, I changed our return from Dec. 13 to Dec. 14. UA thought everything was fine, but CO never cancelled the Dec. 13 flights (both Dec. 13 and 14 showed in CO’s online reservation). So, when we no-showed Dec. 13, CO cancelled our Dec. 14 return flights. (In fairness, this was shortly after *A started allowing changes to award bookings after travel had started, so UACO hadn’t had much time to shake down the IT implementation – yes, I’m a computer geek.)

  6. I have used the Asiana website to view a UA MP award ticket, OW with OZ and return with TG. Was surprised myself that it worked after entering the 016 ticket number.


  7. Once, when I made a change in a One World award (changing a flight and taking a voluntary downgrade from VCE to MAD), it resulted in an additional ticket.

    I discoved it on my way from LIS to VCE via MAD. The IB check-in desk couldn’t check me all the way through to VCE, at first they said “don’t worry, that means they haven’t assigned xyz (I forget exactly what) in MAD, just go to customer service in MAD to get it straightened out.

    Sounded fishy, so I insisted that it didn’t make sense – they called a superior, who called her superior, who, after 25 minutes at the check-in counter, finally found the other ticket number.

    I needed that other ticket number to get back from VCE. Sometimes having the ticket number isn’t enough, you need “all the ticket numbers” (even if you think you have only one ticket).

  8. Just as a point of information, it IS possible to issue a ticket without a corresponding reservation, although for obvious reasons this is only done in specific exceptional circumstances.

  9. One other comment related to this is that when traveling on IET (award or otherwise) and departing from airports that are using PNL/ADL driven DCS systems with ETL rather than active control, it is very common for TKNE mismatches to occur due to minor configuration issues. This potentially can result in long delays at check-in, denied check-in (as an extreme case) but most likely an ETR that is out of segment sync (which in many cases will result in automated coupon control status change).

    Most alliance carriers use integrated DCS systems on a CUTE platform pretty much everywhere but there will always be some airports in the system that use PNL/ADL due to handling agent constraints. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t use online check-in from a station, chances are it doesn’t use an integrated DCS.

  10. It seems simple enough, but I always, always, always get them to repeat the itinerary before it’s ticketed. I had one time where they were about to ticket with an LH F segment in Y and an OZ J segment in Y before I caught it when they repeated the itinerary back to me.

  11. So much for the reservation mix up. just out of curiosity, have you ever had a problem with a client who later changed what he wanted for reservation and later never admit his/her mistake or refuse to pay despite all your efforts.

  12. beware air china segments on aeroplan award tickets, air china can cancel and not rebook. Always take your ticket number with for Aeroplan reservations that involve Lufthansa.

  13. @Brian, it’s quite possible that Sean’s post is useless if we all DO know these acronyms.

    Sean is probably a tech document writer at my company.

  14. Sean M: perhaps less industry jargon? Not everyone reading Lucky’s blog understands the acronyms you’re using. Airport codes, sure, but you might as well be making up TLAs about how the OMG portion of the WTF interacts with the BBQ to produce a CIAFBINSA.

    Or maybe you’re referring to retro-encabulators?

  15. @ Brian — I don’t delete any comments (aside from spam). When did you leave the comment? I see your comment regarding the other post and you were the first to leave a comment on this post, but was there another one that isn’t showing up? The site had a bit of downtime today, so maybe that was the culprit?

  16. Hey Lucky. Thanks for the quick response! It was left this afternoon in response to Sean M.’s comment. Ed in comment #13 references it.

    I did learn about retro-encabulators today, so it is all worth it 🙂

  17. @ Brian — I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say. I have the email that shows your comment, but I don’t see it in the comments section, even on the admin page. It’s not in the trash or spam folder either.

    Sorry about that! For what it’s worth, same thing happened to a comment I left last week, so I really don’t know what to say.

    For anyone interested, Brian’s comment was as follows:
    “@Sean M. PNL/ADL, DCS , ETL active control, ETR, automated coupon control, CUTE platform?

    Unless you know these acronyms and jargon, your post is useless, sorry.”

  18. @ caveman — I usually get paid by clients at the time of ticketing, so can’t say I have. I do occasionally find a good itinerary and then the client decides to change their mind about the trip and doesn’t want to pay me. Cost of doing business, I guess.

  19. I am going through the same problem right now. I booked a star award to ICN on asiana using continental miles in Mid August. This leg continues to drop from my online itineary. Thank goodness I called Asiana to confirm my seat, and they tell me that it has been cancelled. Continental fixes it, but again Asiana does not see it. This has happened 3 times. I have spent about 7 hours dealing with this. The last cont. agent I talked to re ticketed, but to no avail. And was very short with me and told me that if Asiana is canceling, they have every right and I am out of luck, even though I have a confirmation and a ticket number!! Is this legal?
    I finally got to a supervisor who also started out saying that if they cancel, they can’t do anything. I blew my top and now it is in the liaison’s hands. The problem is now that seat is not available for an award booking and I am hoping they will honor as I need to fly with my aged parents who have not been to korea in 35 years!!
    Obviously there is some synchronization problem and I am very nervous that I won’t make this flight.

  20. This literally just happened to my wife (She is still in the airport as we speak)

    Had a 90 min layover in LAX on a one way trip from
    YYJ-SFO-LAX-PTY-ADZ using Aeroplan.

    YYJ-SFO-LAX ticketed on UA. She was given paper tickets at the gate in YYJ by United and told to check in at LAX for the next section as it was on Copa (not crazy uncommon but I guess should have been a flag).

    Goes to check in at LAX as soon as she lands. Gets there with an hour before her flight and Copa says, nope your United eTicket Reservation is invalid and there exists no reservation on their system. Says she can’t let her on the flight and it’s not her fault, no record at all on the system. Woman taps on the computer, tried to pull a rabbit out of a tennis racket and finds nothing. Flight leaves without her

    It’s at this point 11:45pm, Aeroplan has well and truly read itself a broken little bedtime story and has absolutely no after hours call centre. The Air Canada desk at LAX airport is closed. Called all the other airlines to try get info. United blame Copa and Air Canada, Copa blames Air Canada. Wife finally bumps into random Air Canada employee who looks at a computer. Air Canada then says it’s Aeroplan’s fault, nothing can be done.

    Aeroplan Call Centre opens in 2 hours and the optimistic me hopes for some sort of miracle. But what I guess is that they will blame computer error and say too bad so sad. I totally get the whole “Gotta be prepared” and “I triple check my itinerary before and after I book and leave the house, etc” but this was booked and confirmed seating. How on earth can a system say “Oh yea you are good to go Amigo” but not actually do what it says. Then just say to the customer “Woopsies”.

    This kinda stuff makes me want to slander and say horrible things. Wife stuck in airport, hugely delayed holiday, already taken vacation time, nobody taking responsiblity, a system that should work but doesn’t and nobody at the company cares.

    Long story short, DO THE ABOVE TIPS LUCKY GIVES YOU! Yes, You absolutely shouldn’t have to, but you should do it. You shouldn’t have to because that’s like selling someone a new house and then telling them it might not be in the same place where they bought it by the time the sale goes through. Whacked out crazy airline logic.

    Do the above tips. It will save your vacation!

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