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:
- 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.
- 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.